(Reuters) - The U.S. government has spent decades trying to purge jargon, technical terms and other bad writing from public documents. A law passed in 2010 requires that federal agencies use plain language in communicating with the public.
As agencies prepare to report their progress on Friday, plain language advocates worry that bureaucratese lives on.
Below are examples of revisions made to clean up obtuse writing.
Examples come from U.S. agencies, federal government’s Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) and from author Joseph Kimble’s upcoming book “Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please.”
CENTERS FOR MEDICARE & MEDICAID SERVICES, MEDICARE FRAUD LETTER
The U.S. agency that oversees healthcare for the elderly, disabled and poor updated this letter to beneficiaries who report mistakes.
* BEFORE: “Investigators at the contractor will review the facts in your case and decide the most appropriate course of action. The first step taken with most Medicare health care providers is to re-educate them about Medicare regulations and policies. If the practice continues, the contractor may conduct special audits of the provider’s medical records. Often, the contractor recovers overpayments to health care providers this way. If there is sufficient evidence to show that the provider is consistently violating Medicare policies, the contractor will document the violations and ask the Office of the Inspector General to prosecute the case. This can lead to expulsion from the Medicare program, civil monetary penalties, and imprisonment.”
“We will take two steps to look at this matter:
*We will find out if it was an error or fraud.
* We will let you know the result.”
NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE, NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERE ADMINISTRATION, QUICK-REFERENCE CARD
This fishing regulation was turned into an easy-to-use, laminated quick-reference card in bright yellow.
* BEFORE: “After notification of NMFS, this final rule requires all CA/OR DGN vessel operators to have attended one Skipper Education Workshop after all workshops have been convened by NMFS in September 1997. CA/OR DGN vessel operators are required to attend Skipper Education Workshops at annual intervals thereafter, unless that requirement is waived by NMFS. NMFS will provide sufficient advance notice to vessel operators by mail prior to convening workshops.”
* AFTER: “After notification from NMFS, vessel operators must attend a skipper education workshop before commencing fishing each fishing season.”
Officials revised this form letter to divide up information, simplify language and use more white space and headlines as part of a project that showed hundreds of fewer calls to department benefit counselors.
* BEFORE: Dear _______________:
Please furnish medical evidence in support of your pension claim. The best evidence to submit would be a report of a recent examination by your personal physician, or a report from a hospital or clinic that has treated you recently. The report should include complete findings and diagnoses of the condition which renders you permanently and totally disabled. It is not necessary for you to receive an examination at this time. We only need a report from a doctor, hospital, or clinic that has treated you recently.
This evidence should be submitted as soon as
possible, preferably within 60 days. If we do not receive
this information within 60 day s from the date of this
letter, your claim will be denied. Evidence must be received
in the Department of Veterans Affairs within one year from
the date of this letter; otherwise, benefits, if entitlement
is established, may not be paid prior to the date of its
receipt. SHOW VETERAN’S FULL NAME AND VA FILE NUMBER ON ALL EVIDENCE SUBMITTED.”
* AFTER: “Dear _______________:
We have your claim for a pension. Our laws require us to ask you for more information. The information you give us will help us decide whether we can pay you a pension.
What We Need
Send us a medical report from a doctor or clinic that you visited in the past six months. The report should show why you can’t work.
Please take this letter and the enclosed Guide to your doctor.
When We Need It
We need the doctor’s report by January 28, 1992. We’ll have to turn down your claim if we don’ t get the report by that date.”
Reporting By Susan Heavey; Editing by Marilyn W. Thompson and Philip Barbara