Writing government information in “plain language” doesn’t sound that difficult. But avoiding jargon and “government speak” takes extra effort and attention. The NRC recently rewarded one of its own, Information Technology Specialist Laura Metzgar, in the agency’s first annual Plain Writing Contest. Laura set her sights on improving a section of the Congressional Budget Justification. This document provides details and explanations for our annual funding requests to Congress, but since it’s written by committee it often isn’t as understandable as it could be.
Laura took on the challenge of turning the following paragraph into clear, concise English while still conveying all the same information.
The budgetary resources will enable the NRC to continue licensing and regulatory activities to ensure the safe and secure operation of these civilian nuclear reactors. The NRC has organized Operating Reactors Business Line activities into product lines that best support safety and security strategies that impact strategic outcomes as they relate to existing civilian reactors. The resources requested support the Operating Reactors Business Line within the following seven product lines: Licensing, Oversight, Rulemaking, Research, International Activities, Generic Homeland Security, and Event Response. The outputs of these product line activities contribute to the scoring of the NRC Safety and Security Performance Measures and their contribution to achievement of the desired Strategic Outcomes.
The original paragraph is 111 words. Note that the second sentence alone is 30 words, and has four verbs! Laura rewrote the section.
The Operating Reactors business line consists of seven product lines that represent the licensing and regulatory activities to ensure the safe and secure operation of civilian nuclear reactors. The product lines are Licensing, Oversight, Rulemaking, Research, International Activities, Generic Homeland Security, and Event Response. The performance scores for these product lines contribute to the overall score for the agency’s Strategic Outcomes.
The revised paragraph is 61 words. The original text has a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level rating of 20.2—basically requiring 20 years of education to understand the text. The grade level score of the rewrite is 17.1. A definite improvement!
The NRC is continuing to look to ways to improve the clarity of its writing for the public. You can make suggestions on how we can do that in the comments section below.
For more information, visit the new Plain Writing section of the NRC’s website.
NRC Plain Writing Chairman