In 2016, the Partnership for Public Service requested that we analyze how six federal agencies use plain language to improve customer service.
We reviewed the following six agencies as part of a Partnership for Public Service pilot program:
- Department of Health and Human Services – Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
- Department of Education – Federal Student Aid
- Department of State – Passport Services
- Social Security Administration
- Department of Homeland Security – Transportation Security Administration
- Department of Homeland Security – U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
What Was Our Evaluation Process?
Using our ClearMark Awards criteria, we reviewed each agency website, scored them, and summarized our findings for each one.
What Recommendations Did We Make?
Each website showed strengths and weaknesses in their use–or not–of plain language. But we determined that every agency website could benefit from the following four suggestions:
- Test with actual consumers
- Usability testing helps to identify needed improvements; and ensures that the wording, structure, and design is clear enough for users to find what they need, understand it, and use it.
- Create simpler, cleaner interfaces
- To be more responsive to user needs, apply a simple design with a clear map to information they seek.
- Make the logic visible
- Group content under headings that make sense, and use an order that users can easily follow.
- Use visual techniques
- Help users find information by using tables, graphs or photos that assist in their understanding of the content.