Tips from the feds for writing clearly

You may not look to the government for writing advice, but a group of federal workers offers ideas for battling stuffy language.

Who would have thought the government would have anything helpful—or even intelligible—to say on the subject of plain language and clear writing?

But the federal “Guidelines for Creating Plain Language Materials” isn’t just for bureaucrats who get writer’s block when they trying to type up a document in normal English. It can serve as a refresher for communicators—or something to slip under the office door of that jargon-addicted executive.

The guidelines are part of a broader push in the federal government for clear communications, an efforted that resulted in the Plain Writing Act.

Here is a condensed version of the federal advisory:

Identify your audience

Think about why the reader needs to read the document. Also, identify people who will be interested in the document, even if they are not directly affected. Write to everyone who is interested, not just to technical or legal experts. And keep in mind the average reader’s level of technical expertise.

Write in active voice

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