Iowa Congressman Dave Loebsack and a non-profit group called the “Center for Plain Language” are releasing a report card giving federal agencies “improving” grades for the way public documents are written. None of the 23 agencies evaluated got a “D” or an “F” this year, but none got an “A+” for writing either.
“I believe that clear communication from the government is critical,” Loebsack says. “Things are confusing enough for the average person as it is. The last thing we need is confusing language out of the government.”
The Center for Plain Language used a computer program to search federal government documents for grammatical errors and poor word choices. Humans read through stacks of federal documents. Annetta Cheek of the Center for Plain Language says the “government culture” has encouraged federal employees to write to impress the boss.
“If you write something that’s too short, somebody will say: ‘Oops, this isn’t long enough, you know,'” Cheek says. “‘It’s not impressive enough. Write more,’ so you go back and add more words.”
Cheek is a former government employee who became a better-writing crusader in the 1990s.
“You can’t have a democracy if the public does not understand what the government is doing,” she says.
This the fourth year this “Plain Language” a report card for federal agencies has been issued. Loebsack helped pass a 2010 federal law that directs federal agencies to use “clear” language “that the public can understand.”
Some “Plain Language” advocates trace their movement back to a man called Stuart Chase. He wrote a book called “The Power of Words” and used the word “gobbledygook” to criticize the rampant use of meaningless gibberish in government, the law and academia.