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Report card: Agencies complying with Plain Writing Act

Federal agencies are making themselves clear—or clearer, according to the 2015 Federal Plain Language Report Card.

Federal agencies are making themselves clear—or clearer, according to the 2015 Federal Plain Language Report Card.

The report card, issued annually by the Center for Plain Language, scores how well federal departments are complying with the Plain Writing Act of 2010.

Each department receives two grades—one for compliance and one for writing and information design. According to the report card released Nov. 17, most departments—18 of the 23 departments examined—earned an A+, A or A- for compliance. The other five departments all had “passing grades” as well.

Compliance grades were based on whether a department trained staff to write in plain language, whether it had a feedback channel for user complaints about hard-to-understand documents, and whether it responded to feedback in a timely manner, among other factors.

Most departments—15—scored lower in writing and information design than in compliance. Factors considered in the writing and design grade were based on whether documents reflected an intended audience, avoided jargon, and were direct and concise—and whether typography, color and other design elements helped readers understand the content.

Seven organizations—the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Social Security Administration and the Agriculture, Education, Homeland Security, Interior and Treasury Departments—all got an A+, A or A- in both areas.

The only C’s doled out in either category went to the Environment Protection Agency, and the departments of Defense, Housing and Urban Development and Transportation—with one C+, C or C- grade each—and the State Department, which earned a C- in compliance and a C in writing and information design, the lowest grades of any department.

Reader comments

Thu, Nov 19, 2015

Why doesn't someone initiate a review of OPM's responsibility in the dissemination of health care program info? Trying to read and evaluate the various health car programs offered by the feds is near impossible. And since details matter, the 'compare plans' tool is not sufficient. Even if we take the time to print out a 60+ page pamphlet, we're still left tying to interpret what is covered and what the plan will only pay for when the moon is blue.

Thu, Nov 19, 2015

Why isn't Congress graded on the bills that they put together?

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