Way back in 1998, Vice President Gore signed a memo setting up expectations that information from the Federal government would be easy for the public to understand.
In 2006, I was working as a writer-editor in the regulatory shop of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency responsible for providing legal immigration benefits and services. Any one of our regulations could affect thousands to millions of people, many of whom didn’t speak English as a first language. So we had to get the language right.
In the Broadway musical Hamilton, with these words, Alexander Hamilton, the “ten dollar Founding Father without a father” commits to fight for freedom for the American colonies. Now three U.S. Congressmen are taking their shot, committing to fight for freedom from bureaucratic language for American citizens.
On Friday, March 16, Congressman Seth Moulton (D-MA), Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC), and Congressman Dave Loebsack (D-IA) announced the introduction of the “Too Long; Didn’t Read” Act.
The Center for Plain Language is speaking out against proposed changes to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) communication rules. On Friday, December 15, the Washington Post reported that the Trump administration is forbidding CDC from using seven terms and phrases in its upcoming budget documents.
This year the Center is taking a slightly different direction with our annual assessment of government writing: We are grading forms. Or should I say “We are grading Forms!!”—yes, this is exciting! (I don’t imagine, however, that all of the government agencies are as excited about this direction as we are at the Center).
I assume all plain language experts who teach, edit, and review have confronted that exasperated sigh from a colleague: So you don’t like the word I’m using. What do you want me to use instead? This question often comes with an eye roll, grimace, or note of panic because of an approaching deadline.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Office of the Associate Director for Communication published Everyday Words for Public Health Communication in November 2015. It is Version 1 of plain language suggestions – not mandates – to answer that “what instead” question. This blog is the story of how the document came to be.