How important is plain writing? This explanation by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) says it all.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has an important mission. We regulate, license, and oversee the Nation’s civilian use of nuclear materials to protect both people and the environment. Because this mission is so important, we want you to be informed about—and have a reasonable opportunity to participate meaningfully in—our activities. We see plain writing as a key to achieving that goal. After all, how can you become informed and involved if you don’t understand what we say and write? More importantly, why should you trust us to achieve our mission if we can’t clearly communicate important concepts?
Every day, NRC managers and staff make decisions that ultimately affect the health and safety of people and the environment. We know that if we fail to effectively communicate these decisions, we complicate our mission and compromise public confidence.
We also know you’re as busy as we are, and you don’t want to waste a lot of time “translating” complex, jargon-filled documents. Plain writing is good public service and makes life easier for all of us. It saves time and aggravation by helping you to understand our message or complete our forms. It also helps to ensure that our licensees can clearly understand our regulatory guidance and comply with our requirements.
Although no one knows the true cost of poor communication, the available information suggests it’s high. It isn’t easy to explain complex technical concepts in plain language, but it pays off in positive results like increased public confidence, licensee compliance, and enhanced safety and security.
In its Final Guidance on Implementing the Act, dated April 13, 2011, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) stated that “plain writing is writing that is clear, concise, well-organized, and consistent with other best practices appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience. Such writing avoids jargon, redundancy, ambiguity, and obscurity.”
The NRC takes that definition a step further. We believe that plain writing is communication our intended audience can easily understand the first time they read or hear it. It’s not overly casual or unprofessional, and it doesn’t strip out necessary technical details to “dumb down” the information or “talk down” to the reader.
We realize that language that is plain to some readers may not be plain to others. We know we’ve succeeded, however, if our writing enables our intended audience to —
- Find what they need;
- Understand what they find; and
- Use what they find to meet their needs.
- Ralph Lauren’s birth name is Ralph Lifshitz.
- Half of all Americans live within 50 miles of what their birthplace.
- Westerners refer to tea by the color of its leaves (e.g., black tea), while the Chinese refer to tea by the color of the drink (e.g., They call black tea red tea).
- Henry David Thoreau, whose father, John, operated a pencil factory, was the first American to combine clay with graphite to create a modern lead pencil.
- In what country were the terms “left” and “right” first used to indicate an individual’s politics: United States, Germany, France, Japan? (Answer: bottom of page)
Word of the Month
vociferous | voh-SIF-uh-rus | adjective
1: marked by a heated or passionate outburst or protest
“Keith was vociferous in his opposition to an increase in health insurance premiums.”
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SATisfy Your Curiosity
SAT Exam practice question: Select the pair that best expresses a relationship similar to that expressed in the original pair.
BOLD : FOOLHARDY
- lively : enthusiastic
- natural : synthetic
- wise : thoughtful
- creative : childlike
- generous : spendthrift
(Answer: bottom of page)
Red tape is excessive bureaucracy or rigid adherence to bureaucratic regulations. But why tape? And why is it red? It is tradition, dating back to the 18th century, to bind government documents together using a red ribbon or tape. There is no particular reason for choosing the color red; it’s an arbitrary choice. From Maryland Laws, written between 1696 and 1715: “The Map… upon the Backside thereof sealed with his Excellency’s Seal at Arms on a Red Cross with Red Tape.” The association between red tape and bureaucracy was established by the 19th century. For example, here is an excerpt from Catherine Gore’s 1837 Stokeshill Place: “My dear, you mistake John Barnsley… Dearly as he loves a bit of red tape, you never saw him try to inspire any other man with the love of business.”
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Answer: The correct answer “generous : spendthrift” reflects a positive to negative relationship like the original pair.
Fun Facts Answer
France. In 1789 when the National Assembly was convened, conservative delegates who represented the nobility and favored keeping the monarchy, sat to the right of the presiding officer. Delegates who were commoners and wanted to abolish the monarchy sat to his left.
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