Just what the heck is our government trying to tell us?

By Joe Davidson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 10, 2010; 10:50 PM

You can't work in this town 10 minutes without drowning in gobbledygook.

Acronyms, abbreviations, jargon and legalese act as code, keeping information restricted to the cognoscente.

A "top secret" stamp does much the same thing, but at least that is a direct, easily understood statement.

Unfortunately, government too often shuns the simple in favor of the complex. Fortunately, things are changing.

Last month, President Obama signed into law a measure that tells Uncle Sam to speak and write plainly. In May, Obama issued an executive order, instructing agencies to write job announcements in clear language.

That Sam needs an act of Congress and a presidential order to get his communication act together is an indication of how bad things have been.

The law defines its purpose: "to improve the effectiveness and accountability of Federal agencies to the public by promoting clear Government communication that the public can understand and use."

"Use" is a keyword. And useability was a key concept discussed at a workshop sponsored by the Center for Plain Language on Wednesday.

"It's hard, sometimes, when you're inside the Beltway to think about what people outside your agency don't understand," Whitney Quesenbery, a workshop facilitator, said in an interview before the session.

Consider this before-and-after example from the National Marine Fisheries Service posted on plainlanguage.gov, a government Web site maintained by federal employees who volunteer to help Sam speak clearly.


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