The man in the middle: How to make it all the way up the chain

Posted on Oct 8, 2014 in Plain Language Blog Articles

Getting an organization to start using plain language shouldn’t be all that hard, should it?

Simply get the folks at the top to buy-in, train all the writers, and after a bit of learning curve, all new and revised documents should start to be clear and concise.


Well, maybe not.

Seems one critical piece is missing in that rosy scenario – the reviewers. No matter how big or small an organization is, there is the writer and then there are the people who review and approve the document or website. And those often over-looked layers can spell the difference between success and frustration.

Here are three tips to get reviewers to approve documents written in plain language.

  • Have reviewers attend the same plain language training as the writers. When everyone who touches a document gets the same advice and learns the same techniques for writing clearly, the review process is much smoother. Your reviewers may not agree with every word. But the conversation about what revisions are necessary should have everyone speaking the same language, with the same goal of being understood by the intended audience.
  • Before you start your next big project, invite everyone to a kick-off session. Writers, subject matter experts, reviewers, policy analysts, lawyers… everyone who is involved in the issue. Invite ideas and explain how writing the document in plain language will make it more understandable for the intended audience.
  • When your office finally has an approved document and it needs to go to the next level up the chain, be proactive. That next level may not have gotten trained in plain language, so don’t just send it along with a short cover note. Try getting a face-to-face meeting between the head of your office and the leadership of the next level. A few minutes of explanation about the benefits of this new, unfamiliar style between the true decision-makers can be the difference between acceptance and having your entire document come back to you, rewritten in the old bureaucratic style.

And if you have other techniques that have helped get your documents through the clearance process, please share them with the rest of us!

About the author:

Joanne Locke was a bureaucrat for nearly 30 years; now she is plain language consultant. She is also one of the co-founders of the Center for Plain Language. When she’s not editing documents, she’s happiest spending time as a volunteer at her local animal shelter.