“It’s only words, and words are all I have.”
This is the chorus to a famous Bee Gees song, but it’s also the reality citizens face to access government services. Information is shared in written communication, and that means words.
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and The Community of Oriented Policing Service (COPS) understand that words matter. Both of these government agencies have prioritized using plain language to speak to citizens.
CDC and COPS improve plain language scores
As a rule, US government websites communicate poorly with American citizens. Most are unreadable and break the Plain Writing Act 2010. If government agencies don’t use plain language to share information, there are negative consequences for citizens.
But COPS and CDC understand that using plain language is a smart move. Clear communication makes the government more accountable and efficient for the people. This is what effective government looks like!
We rank US government agency websites in our yearly Web Clarity Index.
In 2016, COPS ranked last. This year, COPS ranks third overall. Well done COPS! That’s a rise of 26 places in just one year!
CDC also put in a strong plain language performance.
This year, CDC ranked second overall. In 2016, CDC ranked in seventh place. Way to go CDC! That’s a rise of five places!
Extra points go to CDC for winning two plain language awards in the last year. This is great recognition of their focus on clear communication.
So what does clear communication look like?
Clear communication is about communicating with everyone, not just graduates.
Too often, governments write in language that is not readable. This creates unnecessary confusion. Clear communication for everyone is now becoming such an issue, people are forming political campaigns around it.
CDC does a brilliant job communicating with every citizen who may use their website.
Take a look at their advice on maintaining a healthy weight.
When we run this through our Readability tool, we immediately see plain language being used.
There is room for improvement, but the information is mostly clear and simple to understand.
People need plain language and clear English to make informed decisions. The CDC website makes it easy for people to understand information on diseases and health issues.
People want plain language
Governments have an obligation to communicate effectively with all citizens. This includes citizens without college degrees. Too often, governments write in a language that is not readable. Clear communication for everyone is now becoming such an issue, people are forming political campaigns around it.
Governments are also harming themselves if they don’t use clear communication.
Agencies that communicate in an unreadable style erode the trust citizens feel in them. Unclear communications add to bureaucracy and confuse people.
CDC and COPS are placing the citizens’ interest at the top of their priorities. People who need to access the services these agencies provide can do so easily now. By default, you have citizens who feel valued by their government and worthy of the trust they ask people to place in them. This helps build a stable economy.
Both of these agencies show that using plain language is not impossible, and other agencies should follow suit.
Well done CDC and COPS!
Words truly are, after all, all we have.