Principles of plain language
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Principles of Plain Language. APHA May 9 th , 2013 Hot Springs, Arkansas * Some Content Adapted from NIH Resources. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. 
 Leonardo da Vinci

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Principles of plain language

Principles of Plain Language

APHA

May 9th, 2013

Hot Springs, Arkansas

* Some Content Adapted from NIH Resources


Principles of plain language

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. 


Leonardo da Vinci

Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius-and a lot of courage-to move in the opposite direction. 
Albert Einstein

The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do. 
Thomas Jefferson

I love words but I don't like strange ones. You don't understand them and they don't understand you. Old words is like old friends, you know 'em the minute you see 'em. 
Will Rogers

Men of few words are the best men. 
William Shakespeare

Anybody can have ideas—the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph. 
I never write "metropolis" for seven cents when I can write "city" and get paid the same. 
As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out. 


Mark Twain


Principles of plain language

Today’s Main Learning Objectives

1)      Define the concept of Plain Language as related to minority populations in Arkansas

2)       Describe three principles of Plain Language that can be used to improved communication


Principles of plain language

Plain Language as related to minority populations in Arkansas

In Arkansas...

298,000 adults function at below basic literacy skills.  19% of adults have less than a high school diploma.


Principles of plain language

Arkansas Immigrants

56% of immigrants in Arkansas have limited English Proficiency

73% of foreign born adults in Arkansas read below or a a basic level

48% of immigrants in Arkansas have no earned a high school diploma


Principles of plain language

Health literacy is particularly pertinent for cancer patients and the elderly, who may have hearing or vision problems that further complicate communication.

Cancer patients are bombarded with big terminology and medical information that they may not understand, so they return asking the same questions.


Principles of plain language

Low health literacy has the potential to negatively impact individuals with cancer and other chronic illness who are in a rehabilitation setting in terms of health and well-being.

Low health literacy can negatively impact issues such as self-management of cancer and other chronic illness and medication adherence.

This problem is possibly compounded if the individual is from a rural community, transplanted to a metropolitan inpatient rehabilitation setting and then sent back to their rural community.

It is important to understand how low health literacy interacts with the individual in their complex social setting, including family, health care setting and home community with the goal of reducing potential health disparities among this population.


Principles of plain language

Literacy skills are a stronger predictor of an individual’s health status than age, income, employment status, education level, or racial/ethnic group.

Limited health literacy increases the disparity in health care access among exceptionally vulnerable populations (such as racial/ethnic minorities and the elderly).


What is plain language

What is plain language?

Communication that your audience or readers can understand the first timethey hear or read it.


What are the main elements of plain language

What are the main elements of plain language?

  • Logical organization

  • The active voice

  • Common, everyday words

  • Short sentences

  • “You” and other pronouns

  • Lists and tables

  • Easy-to-read design features

10


Plain writing act of 2010

Plain Writing Act of 2010

Requires executive agencies to use plain language in documents by October 13, 2011

  • In all communications with general public – except regulations.


Identify your audience

Identify your audience

  • Think of why the user needs to read your document

  • Keep in mind the average user's level of technical expertise

  • Write to everyone who is interested, not just to experts (focus on the 90 percent of readers in the middle of the spectrum)

  • Even an expert will prefer a clearly written document


Organize to serve the reader

Organize to serve the reader

  • Anticipate questions an informed reader is likely to ask

  • Organize writing to answer questions in the order the reader will ask them


Use headings

Use headings

  • Allow the reader to quickly find relevant information

  • Break up the information

  • Increase blank space on the page

  • Informative headings help the reader navigate the document


Use short paragraphs

Use short paragraphs

  • Limit a paragraph to one subject or step

  • Smaller “bites” of info are easier to digest

  • Aim for no more than 7 lines


Use short sentences

Use short sentences

  • Treat only one subject in each sentence

  • Avoid complexity and confusion

  • Aim for 20 words per sentence or fewer


Using pronouns

Using pronouns

Pronouns:

  • Speak directly to readers

  • Make your writing relevant to readers

  • Require less translation from your readers

  • Eliminate words


Using pronouns1

Using pronouns

  • Use “we” to refer to your agency

  • Use “you” for the reader

  • If you are using Q&A format, use “I” in the questions and “you” in the text


When pronouns don t work

When Pronouns Don’t Work

  • If you’re addressing more than one audience

  • If you refer readers to more than one office within your organization


Use active not passive voice

Use active, not passive voice

  • Active voice is more clear, concise and direct

  • Passive is a characteristic of bureaucratese

  • “Mistakes were made.”


Hidden verbs

Conduct an analysis

Present a report

Do an assessment

Provide assistance

Came to the conclusion of

Analyze

Report

Assess

Help

Concluded

Hidden Verbs


Use consistent terms

Use consistent terms

  • Avoid “Shall.” It is ambiguous and is not used in everyday speech

  • Use “must” for an obligation

  • Use “must not” for a prohibition

  • Use “may” for a discretionary action

  • Use “should” for a recommendation


Bryan a garner on shall

Bryan A. Garner on “Shall”

In just about every jurisdiction, courts have held that “shall” can mean not just “must”and “may,” but also “will”and “is.” The [U.S. Supreme] Court has [in various decisions]:

  • Held that a legislative amendment from “shall” to “may” had no substantive effect

  • Held that “shall” means “must” for existing rights, but that it need not be construed as mandatory when a new right is created

  • Acknowledged that, “legal writers sometimes misuse ‘shall’ to mean ‘should,’ ‘will,’ or even ‘may.’ ”


Don t sound so bureaucratic

Don’t sound so bureaucratic

  • Limit jargon and acronyms

  • Contractions aren’t bad

  • Use everyday words


Two kinds of jargon

Two kinds of jargon

  • Necessary technical terms

  • Example:Habeas corpus, plaintiff

  • Obscure and often pretentious language marked by circumlocutions and long words

  • Example: Hereby, Wherefore, ab initio


Limiting acronyms abbreviations

Limiting acronyms/abbreviations

  • Use “we” for the agency

  • Don’t use acronyms/abbreviations for infrequent phrases

  • Try another style (the Council)

  • Make them pronounceable

  • (STARS, TRACON, FSDO)


Use everyday words

anticipate

attempt

commence

demonstrate

implement

in the event that

submit

terminate

expect

try

begin, start

show, prove

start

if

send, give

end, cancel

Use everyday words


Use lists

Use lists

Lists--

  • Make it easy for the reader to identify all items or steps in a process,

  • Add blank space for easy reading, and

  • Help the reader see the structure of your document.


Why use tables

Why use tables?

Tables--

  • Save words

  • Make it easy to locate specific provisions

  • Make it easy to take in complex material at a glance

  • Make your logic and structure clear


Principles of plain language

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends


upon a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

William Carlos Williams


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