Today, I read a draft paper that was all about "utilizing Web 2.0 and social media" in achieving the goals of the President's memo. I came upon an acronym that I didn't understand (again!), and it hit me like a 25 mph wind coming across the quad on a -13 degree day in Ann Arbor.
How transparent can something be if you can't understand it? So what if the content is structured? So what if it's in a feed? So what if you can mash it up? So what if you post every piece of potential legislation 5 days before signing it? So what? If you can't understand it because it is written by bureaucrats and for bureaucrats in some wonky-tonky lingo that requires a secret handshake and a decoder ring, it just doesn't matter. It's like it isn't there.
So, in addition to all the great techno-tools to help with participation and transparency, I would like to add the tried and true tool of clear writing. Specifically, Plain Language.
Plain language (also called Plain English) is communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it. Language that is plain to one set of readers may not be plain to others. Written material is in plain language if your audience can:For transparency to succeed--or, in other words, for government to make sense to citizens--we need to start with the basics. I can't participate in the debate unless I understand the choices.
There are many writing techniques that can help you achieve this goal. Among the most common are:
- Find what they need;
- Understand what they find; and
- Use what they find to meet their needs.
No one technique defines plain language. Rather, plain language is defined by results—it is easy to read, understand, and use.--See more at plainlanguage.gov.
- Logical organization with the reader in mind
- "You" and other pronouns
- Active voice
- Short sentences
- Common, everyday words
- Easy-to-read design features
Adding the call to using plain language--not legalese, governmentese, technicalese or gobbledygook--needs to be integrated into each step of the transparency process.
See some great before and after examples of plain language applied.