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Clear Writing - It's the Law


Have you heard? There is a bill in Congress that would make it mandatory that "Government documents issued to the public must be written clearly..." (H.R. 946: Plain Language Act of 2009).  There is also a Senate bill -- S. 574: Plain Writing Act of 2009.  While these bills would only apply to government documents, if these bills pass one day we all might all be expected to use proper grammar, punctuation and spelling.


I thought this might be a good time to offer a few suggestions to improve your writing.  The first test of good writing: Can it be easily read and understood?  Few pieces of writing will persuade anyone to do anything if the reader leaves them on the shelf, tosses them in the recycle bin, or exits the webpage.

•    Be concise.  Edit like you mean it.  Then remove redundant words like "current" services, "future" plans, "new" innovations.  Make each word earn its place.

•    Translate everything from your industry's jargon into plain English.  You'll be amazed at how that single act can make a big difference in the clarity and sparkle of your writing.

•    Choose active words.  Instead of “The meeting was attended by all staff,” use “The staff attended the meeting.” Active words make your writing more interesting and involve the reader.

•    Get rid of clichés.  No one needs to "drill down and get more granular," for example.  Here are a few more clichés to avoid: (with English translations): "no brainer" (easy decision), "win-win" (mutually beneficial), "cutting edge" (innovative), and "talk offline" (chat in private).

•    Update your materials.  Send website text back to a staff person to update. Rewriting an entire website is a daunting task for one person, but not so much if each person is responsible for only a page or two.

While mandating clear writing will never happen, making it your personal mandate will make your writing more effective.