I agree to Idea Plain language on government websites
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I disagree to Idea Plain language on government websites

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Plain language on government websites

Too much of the information on federal websites is poorly written and is too complex, especially for the web. Content managers need to pay more attention to the clarity of information. Most federal web content is covered by the Plain Writing Act of 2010, but transforming federal material into plain language will be a major challenge, especially since the underlying paper-based information is poorly written.

Submitted by alcplain 2 years ago

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  1. Would you be able to briefly outline some of the principles of plain language or point to some of the best resources?

    2 years ago
    4 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  2. Plain language should also be an important consideration for LEP audiences, in English and their languages too.

    2 years ago
    2 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  3. I think if authors and communicators are evaluated on how well their content is received... this problem will solve itself. Allow users to comment on pages, like everywhere else in the "social web" and authors will have no choice but to improve the content. (if it sucks, their email inbox will implode with negative reviews of it.)

    2 years ago
    1 Agreed
    6 Disagreed
  4. We need to do more than give lip service to plain language. I'd love to see the .Gov Task Force or PLAIN designate a peer review panel that - on a routine basis - does some spot checks on govt websites (at least top tasks) and issues a report - either privately to the agencies involved or publicly to everyone (so we can learn from our mistakes). Since we know customers judge all of us by their experience with any of us, we need to work together to make sure we're all writing plain.

    2 years ago
    16 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  5. Perhaps part of the problem is not so much 'plain language' but language, English and writing skills. There's too much posted or published that just has incorrect grammar and poor choices of vocabulary. Clearly, English literacy is not a required KSA in the Federal government.

    2 years ago
    3 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  6. What works for me is writing just like I talk, that works on the company site I founded, and with lots of public service and philanthropy.

    2 years ago
    5 Agreed
    1 Disagreed
  7. I'm with Candi (as usual). People talk plain language all the time, but we need to task someone with providing evaluations to identify when agencies are failing AND give them guidance on how to do better.

    I think the evaluations should be public, too. It would allow everyone to learn from one another's mistakes, and it might light a fire under agencies who are afraid of getting a bad grade in public.

    2 years ago
    6 Agreed
    1 Disagreed
  8. Unfortunately, writing as you speak will only compound the problem. People do not speak plainly all the time. If they did, we have very few personal miscommunications, and as any of us can attest, we do not.

    There are specific guidelines for how to write clear, usable content on the internet. Short sentences; clear, substantive subjects and verbs that are close together; short paragraphs; clear headings and sub-headings that are consistent throughout all pages - these are a few of the basics.

    Unfortunately (again) these are not clearly outlined on the plain language websites that were referenced earlier.

    We need a two-step training process within the government: 1) how to write clearly within the plain language guidelines, 2) how to write effective web copy.

    2 years ago
    4 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  9. Michelle, really good point, my bias as a nerd shows. The normal in everyday US culture is to speak plainly, but you're right, that's not always the case. I do find that frontline government people are smart about that, normally speaking plainly, but can switch into a more complex mode as needed.

    2 years ago
    2 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  10. alcplain Idea Submitter

    Back to Ed's question, let me focus on a few specific items on the plainlanguage.gov website. The "federal plain language guidelines" were cited in OMB's guidance for the Plain Writing Act as what agencies should follow. This is quite an extensive document, probably more useful as a reference than an easily used "how to." There's a more usable checklist for documents at http://www.plainlanguage.gov/howto/quickreference/checklist.cfm. There's also a checklist for the web at http://www.plainlanguage.gov/howto/quickreference/weblist.cfm, although I don't think it's quite as useful as the version for paper documents. Of course, the paper document version works fine for the web, too.

    2 years ago
    2 Agreed
    1 Disagreed
  11. Many times, the lack of plain language isn't the web manager's problem. The internal "client" is often the one demanding the poor editorial work and web managers often don't have the authority to demand plain language. Internal clients need to held accountable for good, usable, human-readable editorial as much as the web people.

    2 years ago
    9 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  12. ALCPlain:

    I’ve tried to use both of these checklists as standards in training. My clients find them difficult to implement.

    The first offers such cryptic tick boxes for “written in plain language” as:

    uses base verbs, not nominalizations (hidden verbs)

    The link that will explain the instruction repeats the two terms “base verbs” and “nominalizations” with a brief, poorly explained example.

    The second offers a bulleted list that is neither in parallel form nor of similar length, thus violating two principles of plain language itself. Here are two examples and how they could be rewritten:

    Never use "click here" as a link — link language should describe what your reader will get if they click the link.

    Eliminate unnecessary words.

    +++

    Don’t say “click here”. Instead, describe where the reader will be taken.

    Be concise.

    2 years ago
    1 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  13. All,

    If you want to really learn how to create websites for plain language visit Ginny Redish's site on plain language: http://www.redish.net/

    I've read her book and heard her speak. She's right on.

    2 years ago
    2 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  14. Agree: speaking plainly is one of the main ways of increasing the usability of any website.

    The recommendation for a website that targets a "broad consumer audience" (i.e., the general public) is to write at an 8th grade reading level. (For more on this research, see http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20050314.html )

    Most government sites are *far* above this reading level. Now, if you target a more specialized and educated audience, you can allow more complex language, though even users with graduate degrees appreciate plain language over convoluted presentation.

    As an example, I looked at the Social Security webste. Sorry to pick on you, but it's the agency that came to mind first as somebody who does target a broad audience.

    From the homepage, I clicked the link "for Wounded Warriors" (again, a broad audience). The resulting page: http://www.ssa.gov/woundedwarriors/

    The two intro paragraphs score a 15th grade reading level, basically meaning that a college degree is needed to easily read the text.

    (I used the readability tool built into MS Word. Yes, I know that reading experts can quibble over the exact way of scoring readability, but for my purposes here, a rough score is all that's needed to conclude that the text is far too difficult for the target audience. Ideally, I would like to run a Cloze test with actual wounded veterans, see http://www.useit.com/alertbox/cloze-test.html )

    The Social Security page mentions that wounded veterans can also get benefits from Veterans Affairs. For good measure, I checked the equivalent page on their website: http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/compensation/

    The first two paragraphs on the VA page score a 13th grade reading level. (A bit above high school.) Much better, though still not what we really want according to the 8th grade guideline.

    (The VA page is nicely chunked with subheads; they were not included in the readability scoring, which only counted body text, but the subheads will definitely help users understand the info better.)

    2 years ago
    5 Agreed
    1 Disagreed
  15. alcplain Idea Submitter

    I want to jump in and discourage using readability scores. Most (not all) plain language advocates reject them as too simplistic. We advocate testing material (especially that going to large audiences) with actual users. Yes, I agree that readability can be used as a rough measure of what is too complex, but that's the top of a slippery slope. Readability just is not useful in determining that your material IS suitable for your intended audience.

    2 years ago
    3 Agreed
    2 Disagreed
  16. I need to strongly agree with @amyklee on this. My experience in working on federal websites is that web managers and their teams are pulling their hair out day after day in trying to adhere to best practices in writing for the web, adhering the plain language guidelines, and educating those several pay grades above them about these things without having the authority or clout to do so. Federal agencies are very much a top down structure, and at the very bottom of that structure are web managers. We have very little power to change things unless change is happening from above.

    2 years ago
    5 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  17. I agree with Jakob Nielsen for the most part, but I also think that one should be able to ask about specific or general terminology for various fields--without interrupting the dialogue--to either get quick responses or referrals to other sites, as is being done in this discussion.

    Or maybe there should be volunteers, like on Project Guttenberg only not so complicated, where individuals could offer a corrected version on their own that could be okayed by the original writer or some other designated person.

    2 years ago
    0 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  18. My concern with "plain language" as the #1 issue with federal websites is that this is not merely a Web issue. The problem with jargon-dense bureaucratese was around before the Web and there have been many failed attempts to fix it. Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and now Barack Obama all took steps to foster plain language but not much changed over the decades. As a Web manager, the great majority of content I work with is beyond my control so I'm not sure how much more we can do on this issue.

    2 years ago
    1 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  19. Thanks to Annetta Cheek for starting this discussion. I'm thrilled to see that plain language ranks first in this idea market.

    I want to contribute to several of the threads here. I'll put up separate comments for each thread, so that people who want to respond to only one thread can do so easily.

    This comment is about "writing as we speak." Craig said this works well for him, but Michelle was concerned that we don't always speak plainly either. Yes, Michelle, that's true; but, like Craig, I find that if I get writers to think of what they write as a conversation, they write much more clearly. They change from thinking about what they have to say to engaging with their readers or web site visitors. When we speak, we are much more likely to use pronouns, short sentences, and simple words. We listen to the other person and adjust our conversation to communicate successfully. I teach writers to hear the conversation in their heads as they write. That gets them to write much more plainly.

    2 years ago
    8 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  20. This comment is about how to know if something is in plain language. The definition of plain language in the federal guidelines covers much more than short sentences and simple words. For something to be in plain language, the people who must or should use that information must be able to find it, understand it, and use it.

    We can't measure plain language only with readability formulas. The formulas don't consider many of the critical aspects of plain language -- headings, grammar, use of lists, spacing, as well as cultural appropriateness or even if the content matches what people need.

    The paragraphs at the top of the Social Security page that Jakob reviewed are poor not only because the sentences and words are long. The writer used passive voice. The pronoun "you" only appears in the last sentence.

    If we set a reading grade level as the measure of plain language, writers tend to "write to the formula" -- even though every developer of readability formulas says not to do that.

    As Annetta said, the best way to know if your content is in plain language is to do usability testing. As many of you know, Jakob Nielsen is the person who introduced us to the idea of discount usability testing years ago. When what you produce has major problems, you can find those problems by watching and listening to only a few people.

    Today, the federal government works with an even more "discounted" version of usability testing than Jakob introduced. Nicole Burton of GSA leads the First Fridays team, following the method that Steve Krug advocates in his book, Rocket Surgery Made Easy. If you're not familiar with it, check out the First Fridays page http://www.howto.gov/web-content/usability/first-fridays

    Of course, you won't be able to do usability testing on every piece of web content that you write. But you can learn from what you do test and carry that learning into other work.

    With my focus on content as conversation, I also offer a useful evaluation technique that you can apply to all the web content you write: Walk your personas through their conversations. About personas: http://www.usability.gov/methods/analyze_current/personas.html

    For every communication (email, web content, anything else), you should know

    -- what you want to happen because you wrote this

    -- who it is for

    -- what questions they have that you should be answering

    When you have a draft of your content, you (or a colleague) should "channel" your persona. Who is the persona? What does that person know or not know? Are they doing this when they are busy, worried, anxious, in pain, curious, happy, frustrated? What is in your persona's mind that brings that person to your content?

    Now go to the web site as if you were that persona. What would that person click on? Would they get to your content? When they get to your content what would they do? Would they skim? read? look for a specific heading? What heading? Is it there? As the persona, is the text understandable? the information they need? in the right order for them?

    I find that with this technique, web writers understand why starting a web topic with the entire history of the program is not what site visitors want. They see that dense paragraphs aren't right because they realize that people are trying to grab information. And so on. Try it.

    2 years ago
    9 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  21. I'd like to jump in on the question of readability and writing as we speak.

    First a big agreement with Annetta and Ginny on readability scores. They tell you things about the length of the words and sentences, but little else. Is TV or television easier to read?

    Part of the problem is (as AmyKlee said) pressure from "above" and part is (as Ginny said) that we don't think of web and other information as a conversation.

    Changing this requires a culture change. Right now, the government culture assumes that legalistic, formal language is "better" and that speaking clearly is somehow "dumbing down" the information.

    For example, there is a wide assumption that health professionals prefer information written in the style of research papers, with dense text and poor formatting. But, when we did usability testing of the same information formatted for scanning and F-pattern reading, with a clear summary preceding the scientific information, doctors and nurses read the information more accurately and quickly, and applauded. Gosh. Bullet points use to display lists! (That would meet the usability metrics for effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction.)

    I'd also mention some of the work that NCI's OCE is doing to create videos. They not only explain complex cancer topics clearly, but blend the perspectives of patients, doctors and researchers in a way that shows how they all connect. Again, these got a good response in usability testing, especially when paired with a article with more detail on the topic.

    It's easy to get hung up on checklists and rules for grammar and formatting. If we think about who we are writing for, and what they want and need to know, it becomes easier to write in plain language.

    2 years ago
    5 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  22. alcplain Idea Submitter

    Whitney is correct about the need for culture change. The current culture of government writing (and indeed in other bureaucracies)focuses on the organization, the manager, the attorney. It assumes that the reader or user is responsible for figuring out the content. We need a shift in responsibility; the writer needs to assume responsibility for making his message clear to the reader.

    Regarding health literacy, financial literacy, or any other domain-specific "literacies", we know that a part of the problem is peoples' reluctance to admit that they don't understand. They are embarrassed to admit they can't read the material. As a plain language advocate, I decided long ago that if you are writing to me--I am your intended audience--and I don't understand, you are the cause of the problem. My "lack of reading skill" is not the problem. Spreading that attitude throughout the government would be a major cultural shift.

    2 years ago
    3 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  23. Si Hoc Legere Scis Nimium Gruditionis Habes.

    2 years ago
    0 Agreed
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  24. I agree that speaking "plainly" is essential on gov websites. But also we need to remember that speaking plainly in policy-speak can still be jibberish to the everyday person. Wonky policy needs to be translated into understandable language that can than be formatted for the web.

    2 years ago
    0 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  25. alcplain Idea Submitter

    Regarding wonky policy - having been a fed for 25 years, I know that those obscure wonky policies have very little impact. If the policies themselves were clearer, they would be more powerful.

    2 years ago
    2 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  26. I'm a website writer in the private sector. Clear writing = sentences of 10 words or less and vocabulary that is at the 8th grade level. There are vocabularly lists for this. In addition, clear writing follows the classic little book "Elements of Style."

    I used to write for State government. My boss didn't allow clear writing because he wanted to obscure who was responsible for what. He loved the passive. For example, "It is believed...."

    If the Feds want usable websites with clear writing, bureaucrats need to be encouraged to take responsibility rather than to be fearful of saying what they mean.

    2 years ago
    6 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  27. I think it's really important to use keyword research when creating pages for government sites. One, it's critical to being found in search to use the term most used (when looking for the topic) in the page copy. Two, if you optimize for search you also optimize for your audience AND create information in plain language.

    2 years ago
    2 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  28. This has as much to do with our culture's frustration with government's writing practices in general, not just for the web. Stop writing thousand page bills. Be clear and concise. I'm far too cynical that real change on that will come to Washington, but hopefully we can enact some of that change online at least.

    2 years ago
    2 Agreed
    1 Disagreed
  29. PLAIN appreciates your ideas to help support plain language websites. The best ways to get well written web content from program offices is to train the writers. PLAIN offers a web-focused plain language class. You can ask us for a class or download the PowerPoint on our site and teach your own staff. http://www.plainlanguage.gov/resources/for_trainers/PLAIN.cfm

    Also, PLAIN holds meetings the 2nd Wednesday of each month. If your agency would like to host a meeting on plain language websites, let us know.

    2 years ago
    3 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  30. alcplain Idea Submitter

    If you wanted to spread plain language to your agency's web community, what tools would you need?

    2 years ago
    0 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  31. alcplain Idea Submitter

    What information and tools do you think should be on plainlanguage.gov?

    2 years ago
    0 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  32. Using plain language helps to deflect some of the intimidation the public feels when reading notices sent by Federal agencies. This in turn may allow for a better rapport between the govt and the public we serve.

    2 years ago
    0 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  33. Plain language websites are helpful not only to the public but also to your agency. When the public understands the message, compliance rates go up and agencies spend less employee time answering questions and clarifying guidance. Also, having a website the public can easily understand is part of the Plain Writing Act of 2010!

    2 years ago
    1 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  34. Shifting from gov-jargon plain language seems to be a significant hurdle.

    Can people in the conversation share strategies and/or successes for convincing stakeholders that using less technical language works -- for both citizens and experts?

    2 years ago
    1 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  35. Unlike others, I think the Word readability tools are useful. At some point once the high-level stuff [formatting, audience, etc.] is dealt with [or not], you are working with a document that you have to make plainer. When I get to this stage, I find it very useful to do revisions and try to push readability up and grade level down as I go. I think this has helped me become a better plain language editor.

    2 years ago
    2 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  36. I agree with amyklee that plain language is a governance issue. If strong web management is not in place that requires rewrites of turgid content, then you're never going to get plain language.

    2 years ago
    1 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  37. It is definitely a big hurdle and a cultural change that won't happen overnight. It involves breaking down 2 myths: 1) that professionals want lengthy, jargon-filled information because they are highly educated and 2) that web material should look like a graduate research paper because that shows you're really smart. When PLAIN instructors teach class we talk about how writers traditionally think inwardly about what they know and what they need to write. Instead writers need to think about who is reading the information and where those readers are coming from. Any kind of jargon is only going to reach a limitted audience. Writers need to train themselves that it is important to use language that helps the reader. If they must use jargon they should define it. Look at how many of the NIH websites cearly define medical terms and then explain them in clear terms the general public can get. That's what we should all strive to do. People want information they can easily understand and use. Doesn't matter what profession you are in or what education background a person has. The reality is the clearer your message, the smarter you look.

    2 years ago
    1 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  38. This was written in 1921.

    Plain Geology, by USGS Director George Otis Smith.

    http://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/plain.html

    "I have a very definite purpose in this appeal for plain geology that a larger part of our people can understand. Today our science has more contacts with life than ever before. This greater demand has called to the ranks many with varying degrees of professional incompetence, a polite phrase by which I mean in plain English that some who calI themselves geologists are knaves, others are fools, and yet others are hybrids. Now, the universal camouflage of the fake geologist–whether of the untaught or uncaught variety–is his protective coloring of technical words. Such an expert uses all the latest terms, but he mixes their meanings, his report is senseless, and we know him to be a faker. But I have yet to note the fake geologist imitating plain statements of geologic facts–that kind of masterpiece he doesn't attempt to copy. So I suggest this method of protecting our useful science from successful imitation; the economic geologist should tell his story in plain English, then because of the transparency of this statement his clients or the public can see things as they are and will learn to refuse the highly colored substitute offered by his quack imitators."

    2 years ago
    2 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  39. Kath Straub asked about strategies for convincing stakeholders that jargon has to go. Recently, in First Fridays Product Testing, the National Weather Service did a simple usability test of weather.gov. Climatologists like to use the word "climate" whereas most non-scientists say "weather" and this issue was almost a religious struggle at the agency. However, when the National Weather Service CIO and Communications Director saw a highlights video of 3 participants struggling on Weather.gov with the jargon, the war was over. It's going to be "weather" when they roll out the changes shortly. BTW, the CIO had asked the site web manager who observed the test for a 5-minute excerpt of the test to show to the senior management team, and the web manager, Ron Jones, made the highlights video that made the case. Getting managers to watch real customers struggle transforms the conversation :)

    2 years ago
    2 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  40. I fully agree with efforts to bring 'plain language' in the culture of the government. By the same token, whatever happened to "Americans" learning how to read? Plain Language runs the risk of 'dumbing down' material in order to compensate for the lack of literacy amongst Americans (civil servants included). As some of you may have seen floating the web sphere this week, there's an photo that states: A book commits suicide every time you watch Jersey Shore. The artwork shows a book seen jumping off a bookshelf.

    2 years ago
    0 Agreed
    2 Disagreed
  41. alcplain Idea Submitter

    Plain language is not about dumbing down. That's a myth. It's about writing clearly. It's about the writer taking responsibility for being clear, not forcing the reader to put up with the usual bureaucratic gobbledygook.

    People (those intended readers) have trouble reading technical, scientific, legal, bureaucratic, and other complex written materials mainly because the materials are not written well, not because of literacy problems.

    2 years ago
    2 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  42. I'm quite aware that Plain Language is not supposed to be about "dumbing down" and that much of what the government writes and publishes is not terribly well done. (At the moment, I'm trying to find basic information on Data.gov and what I'm finding certainly isn't easy to read!). The lack of quality education in this country affects those in the government (who are also tax-paying citizens) to be just as ill-educated as the rest of the country. Maybe that's the problem - too many people who aren't comfortable writing and so overcompensating in their gov. work by hiding behind jargon and four-syllable words when one or two is more than enough. Wanting a more effective, useful and responsive education system (i.e., one not run by lawyers and politicians) in this country isn't being a snob - it's about valuing education and literacy and those being inherent rights for all people.

    2 years ago
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  43. alcplain Idea Submitter

    I do agree with Gary's point on that. And another problem is the Peter Principle - someone is a terrific technical person, so let's have them write, too. And those two areas of expertise often don't occur together.

    2 years ago
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  44. (folks, thanks! I'll be pushing this in a lot of government contexts, and in private industry. From my perspective/bias, this is a customer service thing.)

    2 years ago
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  45. It is necessary to use plain language. Having worked on writing in plain language for documents/forms for consumers (in MN - a law for low income/and other consumers in the 80's), it can be done. You could write a plain language summary of a more complicated document and introduce it as a lead-in before presenting the document.

    2 years ago
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  46. You could start with the IRS and how they have to write their forms in plain English that any 6th grader can understand...yeah right! The 6th graders I volunteer with could express themselves better and clearer, so I propose that we give English classes in high schools something to really work on.

    2 years ago
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  47. Nothing will ever change - 1 The designers are proud of their work to change it. 2. Criticism is not to be tollorated if it comes from public. 3. Does the designer really care if the public can understand it. 4. The public is better off not knowing what goes on in Government. If we did their job might be in jepordy.

    unsubscribing to this waste of time - Who gives a @#%$- OUR doesn't exist in Government

    2 years ago
    0 Agreed
    1 Disagreed
  48. Dan

    I saw hints of it in a few posts, but never specific mention of it (I'll apologize if I missed it somewhere) - context. What is Plain Language to us might not be Plain Language to the reader. And this standard won't be consistent for all readers. Beauty (and readability) is in the eye of the beholder.

    2 years ago
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  49. alcplain Idea Submitter

    Absolutely, Dan. That's a critical component of plain language--it's audience specific. I think it's in here somewhere, but by now there are so many comments it's hard to keep track.

    2 years ago
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  50. Folks, while I passionately agree regarding plain language, the hard part is that it's directly contrary to much official culture, particularly in Washington.

    That is, it's rare for people to get to the point, and then stop. (I've frightened people this way.)

    On the other hand, when I talk about they in Washington, people express a real hunger for it.

    How do we accomplish this kind of cultural transformation?

    Do we just do it, publicly and loudly, then do it more?

    2 years ago
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  51. Agree strongly with improving readability and reducing complexity of current gov website language. Especially agree with using a development process that involves users frequently, trying to do things (usability testing).

    Readability includes the format and structure of the writing - use of headings, white space, bullets etc. You have to be careful saying 'content is like a conversation'. There are many types of conversation. Many Gov sites already make the mistake of having prominent 'Welcome' and 'About' content, that is irrelevant and time-wasting to people trying to do stuff.

    Most website content should be more like a user guide than a casual conversation: minimal text, simple instructions, bullet points and headers for easy scanning. Very functional, less happy shiny text (and pictures!).

    2 years ago
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  52. @craig: top down and bottom up. Higher ups need to make it policy, expect it, and hold those under them accountable. bottom level folks need to know that it is required, expected, and their job/performance review is based on delivering, and also not fear for losing their jobs when they advocate for such things. accountability that truly is (but there again is another can of worms, i.e. worthless performance appraisal systems, no way to truly reward nor punish performance etc.)

    2 years ago
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  53. Community Member: what that would take is outside and objective accountability for the 'higher ups.' 'Subordinates' can't and shouldn't be held accountable until those in power or authority are objectively held accountable.

    2 years ago
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  54. We are all responsible for ourselves. I hold myself accountable and regardless of attitudes around me or higher up, I am personally comitted to excellent customer service. But those with personalities that aren't as strong are afraid of getting in trouble or losing their job, which is usually not the case in reality but the atmosphere gives them that idea. If they hear it at all levels, then they can start to believe it and not be afraid to do the right thing.

    And when I say those under them need to be accountable, I mean they need to submit reports/certify that they are practicing what is preached and what they are doing to make things happen. I have to report monthly on my progress towards state goals for servicing times etc. But there is no penalty if I don't...so why bother reporting or tracking or even trying to meet it? (Not my attitude but a culture example).

    As stated in another post http://web-reform-dialogue.ideascale.com/a/dtd/Create-a-culture-of-customer-service/83571-4097, the culture of customer service and civil SERVICE must be restored and government employees must WANT to be the best, rather than made fun of (good enough for government work).

    And I for one am tired of taking the blame as a government employee for things I have no control over nor any means to remendy, because things only come from the top down and input from the field is DISCOURAGED. But then I am on this site because I have something to say about such things, and am grateful for a step in that direction that this represents.

    2 years ago
    1 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  55. I think organizing the government websites in the most basic form and using plain text such as in www.craigslist.org would be very beneficial to the internet users. Listing all the different federal government agencies under specific categories/groups would bring more clarity to what the government does. I believe there is a lot of useful information that is currently in every government website but the public is unaware that it exist. A simple website that divides the government agencies into categories all listed in one page would be benefecial and serve as a one stop shop. A drill down menu could be implemented into each agency from the main page where users can further see how each federal agency is subdivided. The exploded version of each agency would only be shown if the user clicks on the link from the home government index website.

    2 years ago
    0 Agreed
    2 Disagreed
  56. I was just on USDA Connect (internal site, like Facebook for USDA employees recently launched) and someone ther posted an excel file with SkillSoft courses and a recommended reading list for plain language writing skills. How cool is that?!

    2 years ago
    0 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  57. Dear "We are responsible for ourselves".

    You said your a gov employee and you do what your management tells you per policy and imput is discourged. Then please do not pass off your lack of responsibility in communicating any and all information someone would need to help them, just because management might discourage imput. You are there to help people and there is no reason for a gov employee to NOT do their job to the best of their ability. Management needs to step up and take responsibility. S--- does not have to roll down hill.

    2 years ago
    0 Agreed
    2 Disagreed
  58. @drae.tye-I think you misunderstood my comment. I help my customers to the Nth degree.

    But I can help them even more easily for both of us, and possibly do more for them, if higher ups would listen to my suggestions, which they don't. The people above them don't listen to them so the ceiling stops input and change from the bottom up. But I still make the suggestions, just as I am involved on this site because I want to make things better.

    I am not in any management position and customer service is king in my world, and I practice that daily with all customers. I fight for them with management.

    But there are those within my agency who fear for their jobs if they fight with management, and with good reason, as there is precedence.

    2 years ago
    0 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  59. It is important to be specific about requirements rather than say "especially for the web." The Internet both a major means of communication and a vehicle for applications. We ought to learn to express any information in plain language or,what we commonly have referred to as clear technical writing, or to some simply Strunk and White.

    However, not all ideas are simple. While it is possible to explain some things more plainly our standard should not be to reduce the quality of information based solely on some idea that it is geared for a "web audience." The American people are the same people on and off the Internet. Some people would argue with me about this.

    What is different, of course, is that the Internet contains applications we need to use, and forms we need to fill out and we must have clear instructions that explain how to do this. There are accessibility guidelines and other guidelines for application usability and clarity that can be followed. This takes time, and learning:

    See

    http://www.uie.com/

    http://www.upassoc.org/

    http://www.usability.gov/

    http://usabilitynet.org/

    I would ask to improve the question: I think it is somewhat vague to say "too much of the information on federal websites" is unclear. This is itself unclear, and possibly gratuitous. Let's be specific with examples of what we would like to change.

    Just my 2 cents. Thanks.

    2 years ago
    1 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  60. Explain, Offer, & Direct. Think of page content as a direction to a call for action.

    Where are you? What is here? What else might you need/want/be interested in? Not in that particular order but written as plainly as possible as the above commentors have pointed out.

    Not everything on a page has to say "go here", you may already be where you need to be, but there are places online to be verbose, and I would suggest a government website isn't one of them.

    2 years ago
    0 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  61. All of this discussion is nice. But does it change anything? I am glad that it makes the top of the list.

    But what next?

    2 years ago
    0 Agreed
    0 Disagreed