Plain Writing Act of 2010 into law on Oct. 13, 2010

by admin on July 13, 2011 · 16 comments

President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010 into law on Oct. 13, 2010.  Simply put, by October 2011, federal agencies are required to generate “plain language” documents to help the public find what they need, understand what they find and use what they find to meet their needs.  The act covers documents needed to obtain and learn about government benefits and services, as well as to comply with federal requirements.  (For the record, plain language in regulations is addressed separately by three different executive orders.)

I am proud that the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy, which I head, will lead the Department of Labor’s efforts to implement the Plain Writing Act.  Over the coming weeks and months, my staff will work closely with DOL’s agencies, each of which will have a plain language coordinator.  We will take care to balance the specific needs and audiences of every agency with the objectives of the act.

Since achieving full compliance will require support from everyone at the Labor Department, we also will provide plain language training for employees.  OASP and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management will identify the most appropriate strategies, tapping the successes of others – the Department of the Army, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control – that already have done so.

But in general, moving forward, the DOL team will ensure that our materials:

  • Speak directly to readers by using personal pronouns (“we” instead of “Department of Labor” and “you” instead of “applicant,” “employer,” etc.).
  • Use short sentences that don’t contain unnecessary words.
  • Avoid technical jargon.
  • Use clear headings to guide readers through documents.

To illustrate, I’ll borrow an example from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  See the “before” and “after” language below:

Before
This regulation governs disaster assistance for services to prevent hardship caused by fire, flood, or acts of nature that are not provided by FEMA or the Red Cross.

After
This regulation governs disaster assistance that:

(a) Consists of services to prevent hardship caused by fire, flood, or acts of nature; and

(b) Is furnished by a provider other than FEMA or the Red Cross.

I look forward to working with my DOL colleagues as, together, we achieve full compliance with this important act.  And I am pleased that we will keep the public apprised of our progress at a dedicated website, http://www.dol.gov/dol/PlainWriting.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Philip Jacobson July 14, 2011 at 1:31 am

I suggest you use a better example; in my mind changing “for” to “that consists of” and changing “that are not provided by” to “is furnished by a provider other than” while adding a colon, a semi-colon, and two blank lines seems to fly in the face of the intent of the regulation.

I also like the touch of having to prove I am sentient to post a comment about plain language.

2 Donna Kent July 14, 2011 at 8:59 am

It’s about time that the government writes in plain English. First all, English is our National Language and everyone should be able to read, write and speak it. Also, so many reports/documents are written so that even Congress can’t even understand what they came up with.

3 T. Austin July 14, 2011 at 12:54 pm

have a lay person write it

4 Rebekah Haydin July 15, 2011 at 11:51 am

I appreciate the intent behind the Plain Writing Act. However, I don’t think the After example above is any better than the Before. Here’s how I might reword the text:

This regulation governs assistance that:
-Prevents hardship caused by disasters such as fire, flood, or acts of nature; and
-Is provided by an entity other than FEMA or the Red Cross.

And let me say I envy the folks who get to rewrite these documents. That’s my new dream job!

5 TomTom xxl 540m July 25, 2011 at 9:38 pm

information you present will not be the latest information nevertheless it is extremely beneficial as it delivered in time along with the right time

6 Denise Sudell July 28, 2011 at 3:43 am

Why not use something easier to understand than “govern”? For example, “This regulation explains the requirements for disaster assistance that . . . .”

I also agree that the second example is harder to understand than the first. Here’s my suggested revision: “This regulation explains the requirements for disaster assistance funds for services that:
* Are designed to prevent hardship caused by fire, flood, or acts of nature, and
* Are not provided by FEMA or the Red Cross.”

I suspect that if I had more information about the context, I could make the language even simpler.

7 Denise Sudell July 28, 2011 at 3:58 am

Here’s one way to make the example simpler (if my guess about what it means is correct):

You can get funds under this regulation to pay for services that are:
1. Designed to help people who are in trouble caused by fire, flood, or acts of nature, and
2. Not provided by FEMA or the Red Cross.

8 OSHA Standards and Requirements September 1, 2011 at 12:24 pm

The OSHA regulations are a perfect place to start. For example, the confined space entry standards (seen at http://www.confinedspacetraining.net) and the excavation standards (seen at http://www.competentpersontraining.net) are difficult at best to decipher, and need an OSHA expert to explain them. I like the Q & A format of the recordkeeping standards (1904).

9 Larry Czaplyski November 14, 2011 at 8:33 am

I applaud your effort. I think people will appreciate what you are doing.

10 Fred November 16, 2011 at 2:03 pm

What you are doing is going to improve other people´s life. Good job.

11 dskandalo | tienda erótica January 17, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Me alegro del esfuerzo del trabajo que usted está haciendo, me pongo a sus pies.
Un saludo, Dskandalo

12 Tony R March 12, 2012 at 7:41 am

Denise Sudell: I agree with you it could still be made simpler then the example above…as with your comment “if my guess about what it means is correct” which clearly shows you are not 100% still what it means. The plain English should mean anyone reading it will instantly be able to understand it and not be in two minds as to what is being said. That being said however it is still a improvement on before.

13 Paul Blackburn May 23, 2012 at 11:24 pm

Success is measure on the hardwork and patience we put in every action, undertakings and job.

14 niceclassifieds July 4, 2012 at 1:29 am

Plain Writing Act of 2010 is well explained here, I am feeling confident now.

15 App development Training July 5, 2012 at 2:06 pm

‘Plain language’ can be interpreted in a number of ways!
What is plain language for one person may not be for another.
Sometimes government or even legal documents after the wording in such a way that the words and phrases used may not be understood by everybody.
But at least it’s a step forward in the right direction.

16 L.Crossing August 2, 2012 at 9:36 am

Sometimes reading legal documents can be overwhelming. The simpler a legal document, the better.

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