U.S. NRC Blog

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Taking Out The “Gov Speak”

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.

Original Text:

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.

Revised Text

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.

Glenn Ellmers
NRC Plain Writing Chairman

4 responses to “Taking Out The “Gov Speak”

  1. stock March 27, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    I think you are missing one important thing in the rewrite, the aspect that there are budgetary constraints that get divied up into various product. The budget part was lost.

    A shorter rewrite is not necessarily a good rewrite, in fact simple and clear often requires more words. lawyers like to try to get down to the elegant minimum number of words….and in doing so make it too hard to understand.

    And rather than using a string of comma’s list out the business units with bullets, or numbers. Or better yet, put them in a matrix (spreadsheet format) and in column 3 show the multiplier for how they calculate out to a final score. NOW you are talking clarity.

    And one business product you are sorely lacking is STRATEGIC DIRECTION. i.e. acceleration of dry casking and phasing out of old plants.

    I would also modify Oversight to be Oversight and Enforcement of Penalties

  2. Seth Jared November 7, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Bravo! Now if we could only apply this to Congressional legislation. On the other hand, lawyers and politicians have long used complex language to mask the truth meaning of government rules and laws to the average person. What will happen when the average person can make sense of these things?

  3. atencion a clientes en linea November 3, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    we need talk whit the goverment becouse they hide a lot thing for our welfare

  4. Jane Swanson, Mothers for Peace November 2, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    Can Plain Writing be included in Federal Register Notices?

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