NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 11, 2006

The average person may find it tough to understand state government, but Washington state officials want to deploy changes to alleviate state personnel's employment of acronyms, jargon and legalese that routinely pervade interfaces with constituents.

Or in plain speak: Talk to the public as you would talk to any other person -- simply and in plain language.

  • In the 18 months since Gov. Chris Gregoire ordered all state agencies to adopt "plain talk" principles, more than 2,000 state employees have attended classes on writing letters, announcements and documents in everyday language.
  • So words like abeyance, cease and utilize are out, replaced by suspension, stop and use.

When citizens know what the government is asking of them, there's a better chance they'll comply, officials have found:

  • For example, by rewriting one letter, the Department of Revenue tripled the number of businesses paying the "use tax," the widely ignored equivalent of sales tax on products purchased out of state.
  • That meant an extra $800,000 collected over two years by the department.

Though other states have done some similar work, Washington state is thought to be the first to make a full-scale effort, said Thom Haller, executive director of the Center for Plain Language in Washington, D.C.

Source: Rachel La Corte, "Simply stated, government wants to be understood; In Washington state, agencies learn how to speak plainly and avoid legalese," Associated Press/Houston Chronicle, December 11, 2006.


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