By Arleen Porcell
Let me be clear—plain language is clear communication.
As a federal communicator you have learned and practiced plain language principles and techniques; applying them to your daily work. Also called plain writing or plain English, plain language is communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it. The Plain Writing Act of 2010 defines plain language as writing that is clear, concise, well-organized, and follows other best practices appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience.
You’ve customized communications plans using available tools and resources on www.plainlanguage.gov and have executed strategies and tactics. You’ve trained and touted its importance and benefits among target audiences. You’ve compared and scored materials using before and after examples showing how much easier the “after” is to understand and quantified your work to evaluate success.
After years of hard work, do you think your agency has embraced plain language? Do you still hear arguments such as, “I don’t get it,” “Why do I have to dumb down science?,” or “Isn’t this the role of communicators?” How successful have you really been in creating a culture of clear communication at your agency?
Based on renewed interest in this topic, the time seems right for re-energizing our efforts. To help you encourage, support, and create a culture of clear communication in your organizations, consider the following strategies:
- Rebrand the term. Is calling it plain language not resonating with your audience? Why not call it clear communication?
- Review your agency’s Plain Writing Act page.
- Get buy-in from senior leadership. Remember to identify what’s in it for them. Ask a high-profile convert serve as a champion for plain writing.
- Use a multi-prong approach. Start by ensuring everyone on your staff completes plain language training. Training is available at digital.gov.
- Join the Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) to continue sharpening your skills.
- Use, create, or adapt a Clear Communication Index to develop, evaluate, and revise web and print materials.
- Developa policy requiring staff to use the Clear Communication Index. Promote it aggressively to increase awareness and accountability.
- Offer ongoing clear communication consultations.
- Offer and promote quarterly lunch and learn clear communication sessions to your internal customers on the basics of developing, reviewing, and editing materials.
- Develop a “How to Create Clear Communication Materials” poster series.
- Host a storytelling club. Topics may include an introduction, scenes and dialogue, setting and pace, character and narrator, finding your voice, beginnings and endings, and structure and themes.
- Include a Writing Tip Wednesday section in your weekly employee newsletter.
- Make learning fun. For example, issue a clear communication challenge/contest for your employees and customers. Showcase and recognize winners once a year. Download and promote short videos on plain language tips and tricks or produce your own using easy software tools such as Camtasia.
What tips or best practices do you use that could help your colleagues?
Arleen Porcell, MS, APR, is a senior communications specialist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, GA where she provides communications support for the Human Resources Office. Arleen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org