The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires all federal agencies to write "clear Government communication that the public can understand and use." President Obama also emphasized the importance of establishing "a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration" in his January 21, 2009, Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government.
At SBA, we are committed to writing new documents in plain language by October 2011, using the Federal Plain Language Guidelines.
We need your help to comply with this Act! Let us know if you have trouble understanding our documents or the pages on our website: Plain.Language@sba.gov. We welcome feedback about specific documents, or general information that is available. Please don’t hesitate to let us know if you find that one of our new documents is not clear.
We have assigned staff to oversee our plain language efforts:
- Plain Language Coordinator: Kim Bradley, Director, Office of the Executive Secretariat - (202) 205-6608,firstname.lastname@example.org
- Plain Language Contact: Rick Lynch, Writer-Editor, Office of the Executive Secretariat - (202) 205-6608,email@example.com
We’re strategically training our employees and continue to strengthen our oversight process. We promise to use plain language in any document that:
- is necessary for obtaining any federal government benefit or service;
- provides information about any federal government benefit or service; or
- explains to the public how to comply with a requirement that the federal government administers or enforces.
SBA staff are very excited about what we're doing to improve our communications with our customers, and that enthusiasm has made implementation of our plans a huge success.
The first way we implemented the Plain Writing Act of 2010 was to include a plain language review of all outgoing Executive correspondence.
To more quickly reach and instruct our staff, we established an internal Core Plain Language Group, which consists of staff from several of our program offices. The Office of the Executive Secretariat (Exec Sec) leads the group, and is the most heavily represented. The Exec Sec deals heavily and directly with Congress and the public, and is the logical choice to spearhead this effort.
The Core Group has been trained, and is working with the officially designated interagency working group (PLAIN) to train others throughout the Agency.
We began our employee outreach with weekly tips on improving writing. This information goes out to all employees each week, and can range in topic from word usage to punctuation to best practices.
We will continue attending the PLAIN meetings and observe, implement, and incorporate best practices into our program. We will use video and interactive web content in our training program, which will enable employees to gauge their own abilities, as well as more effectively convey some of the more complex elements of plain writing.
The Agency has scheduled training for Administrative Officers late this summer, which will reach across many program offices, and involve approximately 300 staffers. This is direct training that is performed face-to-face, and in small groups of 15 to 20 at a time.
SBA's designated senior official is Kim Bradley, Director of the Office of the Executive Secretariat. Her experience is substantial and long-running. The Agency's Coordinator is Jason A. Monroe, Senior Correspondence Analyst in the Exec Sec. Cyril Jones serves as a second coordinator. Various staff within the Exec Sec will serve as stand-ins in the absence of any of these three. We will update this report and the Plain Language page on SBA.gov in the event if any staff turnaround.
Information and training on Plain Writing & Plain Language comes through various sources, including weekly Plain Language tips, brown bag seminars, expanded training sessions, and document review. We have hosted six brown bag sessions, with three more scheduled for April and May. There have been 10 expanded classes (including one given by a PLAIN instructor) with the next scheduled for April 2012.
The brown bag sessions are approximately forty minutes in length and attendees have consistently expressed positive feedback . These sessions focus on passive and active voice writing, the use of pronouns, shorter sentences, and avoiding jargon in our communications.
The expanded sessions are approximately two hours in length, and thoroughly cover all aspects of plain language. Agency staff has received it well.
Approximately 250 employees have participated in the brown bags and expanded sessions.
Approximately 50 tips have been published in the SBA Daily, and are also available on the intranet page. They are popular, and have generated dialog among staff throughout the Agency, consisting of email responses, questions, feedback, and requests and suggestions for more tips. The dialog continues in person at Headquarters, indicating that employees are actively engaged in implementing the Plain Language Act.
Future efforts to expand our training include filming the Plain Language training and posting all sessions on our intranet page. The scripts have already been started, and filming is due to start in 3rd Quarter 2012.
Additionally, we will publish an SBA training handbook that will be distributed to all staff. The handbook will incorporate many pieces from the SBA Daily Plain Language Tips, and should be very well received. This will be an internal document, and include additional materials important to the idea of Plan Writing.
All SBA correspondence, including Congressional correspondence and all correspondence that bears the signature of the Administrator, Deputy Administrator, or Chief of Staff now receives a thorough review for adherence to the Plain Language Act, as do all reports such as the recently issued Open Government 2.0 report.
We continue attending the PLAIN meetings and observe, practice, and incorporate best practices into our programs. We will incorporate interactive web content into our training program to enable employees to gauge their own abilities, as well as more effectively convey complex elements to Plain Writing.
Plain Language Videos
Kathryn Catania (Chief, Plain Language and Content Division, Office of Communications, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, DHS) has been active in the plain language initiative for years. She travels the country instructing in plain language and is a co-chair of the Plain Language and Information Network (PLAIN). She’s also an accomplished actress, director, and producer as these plain language videos make abundantly clear.
Check them out, and you’ll learn all about using tables, acronyms, and active voice, and you’ll pick up some great proofreading tips, too.