Reaching (and respecting) veterans with plain language

To honor our US veterans today, let me share an example of exemplary writing practice from the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA). A team working on a form wanted to use the question, “When were you last (gainfully) employed?” They felt that the term “gainfully employed” would gather more legally sufficient and accurate information than just…

Plain language requires attention to the process

The first three parts of my series on defining plain language focused on the three aspects of the rhetorical triangle: (1) textual elements like style and organization, (2) reader outcomes like comprehension and usability, and (3) writer outcomes like organizational costs and benefits. To overcome the limitations of any one of those aspects when considered alone,…

If content is king, then usability is queen

You’ve heard me say how important reader testing is when you truly care about meeting the needs of your audience. The Before and After Gallery hosted by the DigitalGov User Experience Program provides some terrific examples. [6/16/14 Update: examples appear to have moved to Government Usability Case Studies.] After watching some representative readers use the Fueleconomy.gov Mobile…

Pros test their draft documents — with readers

Because pro writers recognize their limitations, they adopt practices designed to overcome them. One of those practices is testing a draft before delivering the final document. That’s why I highlighted the practice within my post: What is plain language? (Part Four: Putting It All Together in a Process). There are lots of document quality testing methods. While the source…

What is plain language? (Part Four: Putting it all together in a process)

The first three parts of my series on defining plain language focused on the three aspects of the rhetorical triangle: (1) textual elements like style and organization, (2) reader outcomes like comprehension and usability, and (3) writer outcomes like organizational costs and benefits. To overcome the limitations of any one of those aspects when considered alone,…

There’s no substitute for observing your readers

I like to highlight best practices in writing for the workplace when I see them. Here’s a terrific example. This morning, Judy Knighton posted Listen to your readers! at Write, “a professional services firm that helps government and business organisations create clear, reader-friendly communications” located in New Zealand. I’ve written about audience analysis and posted a video tutorial on…