VisibleThread Ranks Federal Websites for Plain Language and Transparency

Fergal McGovern

CEO & Founder

3 min read

VisibleThread Ranks Federal Websites for Plain Language and Transparency

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Score Best

Report and Index Highlight Significant Gaps between Best and Worst U.S. Government Websites and their Compliance with the Plain Writing Act

Baltimore, MD – November 8, 2011— VisibleThread, a developer of document content analysis solutions and clear reports, today announced the availability of its first VisibleThread Website Index, U.S. Government – Q4, 2011. This ranks 30 U.S. federal agency websites for clarity of written content. The rankings coincide with the October 2011 implementation deadline of the Plain Writing Act of 2010, requiring federal agencies to use “clear Government communication that the public can understand and use”. VisibleThread will release rankings on a quarterly basis to monitor agency progress.

The VisibleThread Website Index, U.S. Government ranks websites on four criteria. (1) Readability – How readable is the content? (2) Passive Language – active language communicates clearly. What percent of sentences are passive? (3) Long Sentences – what percent of all sentences are considered too long? And (4) Word Complexity Density – complex words make Web pages hard to understand. Collectively, these metrics tell us how clear or complex website content is.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics (rank 1) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (rank 2) are the leaders. Low levels of long sentences, low levels of passive language, combined with easy to understand terminology were the winning traits. Readability levels are impacted directly by these factors. Both the US Geological Survey (rank 4) and the National Cancer Institute (rank 5) scored well but were let down by a single metric: readability and passive language respectively. The top five ranking Websites are:

Room for Improvement

At the bottom of the index is the Federal Railroad Administration. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (Transportation) and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation ranked jointly in 28th place. Factors making these the worst performers are a high proportion of long sentences, high levels of passive language, a high degree of complex language and poor readability ratings. The bottom ranking sites are:

There are two very important reasons that underpin the Plain Writing Act of 2010 – one impacting citizens and one the agencies,” said Fergal McGovern, CEO of VisibleThread. “Clarity in documents and websites means citizens are more likely to achieve their goals. Whether you are filing a tax return or trying to understand labor rights, clear instructions mean we have a better chance of completing a task. When people know what the government asks of them, there’s a better chance they’ll comply. Secondly, if federal agencies make it easier for people to engage, it means lower cost for government due to fewer follow-up calls, letters and less time spent chasing. This index provides clear points of focus for agencies looking to improve, and that can only be a good thing.”

Complete Agency Rankings

US Government – Q4, 2011 Plain Writing
1 Bureau of Labor Statistics (Labor) 3.75
2 Centers for Disease Control (Health and Human Services) 6
3 Bureau of the Census (Commerce) 6.25
4 U.S. Geological Survey (the Interior) 7
5 National Cancer Institute (Health and Human Services) 7.75
6 Smithsonian Institution 9
7 National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) 11.75
7 National Aeronautics and Space Administration 11.75
9 State 12.25
10 Federal Aviation Administration (Transportation) 13
10 Veteran Affairs 13
12 Natural Resources Conservation Service (Agriculture) 13.75
13 the Interior 14
14 U.S. Mint (the Treasury) 14.5
15 Social Security administration (Health and Human Services) 15
16 Health Resources and Services Administration (Health and Human Services) 16.25
17 Federal Bureau of Investigation (Justice) 16.5
17 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (Justice) 16.5
19 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (Health and Human Services) 16.75
20 General Services Administration 17
21 Community Oriented Policing Services (Justice) 17.5
22 Small Business Administration (Labor) 18
23 Homeland Security 18.5
24 Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation 18.75
25 Federal Highway Administration (Transportation) 22.75
25 Program Support Center (Health and Human Services) 22.75
27 Transportation 23.75
28 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (Transportation) 24.5
28 Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation 24.5
30 Federal Railroad Administration (Transportation) 28.5

About VisibleThread

VisibleThread provides document content analysis software solutions and Website reports. The company flags poor quality and complex language for documents and Websites to eliminate tedious manual review cycles, saving organizations time and cost. VisibleThread solutions and reports allow customers to scan documents and Websites in minutes, identify risky and complex language with objective metrics and benchmark Websites against sector peers. For proposal managers, government agencies and IT delivery teams VisibleThread solutions increase the likelihood of winning bids, drive plain language audits and make review teams 40 percent more efficient. For more information, visit

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