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When You Need Urgent Help, It May Be Hard to Find on Government Pages

The Center for Plain Language Releases Its Annual Federal Report Card

WASHINGTON, Nov. 19, 2019­ /PRNewswire/ -- If you have to prepare for a hurricane or a power outage, you need information you can understand and use quickly. But on government webpages, you might struggle to find that information. According to this year's Federal Report Card prepared by the Center for Plain Language, the information is often on the page in plain English; it's just hidden by poor information design.

2019 Federal Plain Language Report Card

The report card, released today by Congressman Dave Loebsack (D-IA), graded 21 federal agencies on how well they comply with the 2010 Plain Writing Act, which requires federal agencies to communicate clearly.  This year's Report Card evaluated staffing, training, and reporting required by the law, as well as how easy it was to find, understand, and use information in two online pages from each agency:

  • The most-visited agency page. In the 2nd year the Center has graded these pages, the average grade jumped from a C+ to a B. Most-improved honors go to the Department of Energy's "How Do Wind Turbines Work?" page, which earned an A.
  • An urgent help page, selected from top .gov pages in Google search results for urgent queries, such as, "Help, hurricane is coming." This is the first time the Center has graded these pages. Overall, judges had a tough time finding information a stressed reader would seek. One agency's urgent help page earned an A: Veterans Affairs' "Veteran Suicide Prevention."

"It has been nearly a decade since the Plain Writing Act was signed into law, and I want to applaud our federal agencies for the extraordinary progress they've made," said Congressman Loebsack. "But one area remains a stumbling block--information design, which is crucial when it comes to urgent help information. If someone has only hours to prepare for a severe storm or just moments to help a veteran in need, we can't let unnecessary information, outsized photos, or self-promotion get in the way of vital information."

The Center for Plain Language, a non-profit organization, helps government agencies and businesses write clear documents. The Center also urges people everywhere to demand plain language in all the documents they receive, read, and use. For more information, visit  centerforplainlanguage.org.

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SOURCE Center for Plain Language