Dear Government: Make Yourself Plain

Friday, April 27, 2012


Government writing is so obtuse, so bloated with legalese that the government decided to police itself with the Plain Writing Act of 2010. That act says that the Executive Branch should, you know, write more clearly. Bob speaks with former government employee Dr. Annetta Cheek who began advocating for clearer government writing after seeing a single, beautifully clear regulation.


Quantic - Una Tarde en Mariquita


Dr. Annetta Cheek

Hosted by:

Bob Garfield

Comments [4]

Chris Marquardt from London, UK

Bob Garfield cheekily illustrates the potential pitfalls of "plain English" by having the show's producer "translate" the soaring prose of the Declaration of Independence's first paragraph. It was a fun little prank, but -- as I discovered after listening to the podcast -- a waste of energy! Instead, you might simply have quoted from the hum-drum chunk of law the Continental Congress passed on July 2, 1776, two days prior to the Declaration's official publication -- the Lee Resolution, or "resolution of independence."

Ready? Here’s the text, in plain colonial English:

"Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved."

That's it. Not bad, huh? There's some other stuff, but it's not about independence per se. In fact the same text reappears in the final paragraph of the Declaration published on July 4. At that point, though, Jefferson et al. could only "solemnly publish and declare" independence -- because Congress had already "resolved" it on July 2.

Maybe that was the reason John Adams thought July 2, not 4, would become a great American holiday. Obviously he had no appreciation for power of "magisterial" prose to inspire a nation.

May. 06 2012 09:43 AM

This is an important story that I hope NPR and On the Media continue to report on. Bruce Braley, a US Representative for IOWA has introduced bill that will require plain language in regulations.

I have one bone to pick with Mr. Garfield - his producer's rewrite of the Declaration of Independence. I think the following is "plain language" without the dumbing down used in his version.

It is necessary for us to end our alliance with you, and become our our own nation. This is a basic human right. Out of respect for you, we have attached our list of reasons for ending our alliance.

Please note the lack of contractions, "gotta"s and the like. guestSimple, but still diginified. I think it is important that Mr. Neary failed completely to "channel" the guests intent, which is plain languge, not ignorant language. I know that this was done for laughs, but I felt it was insulting to the guest, and to the important work she is doing.

Sorry to be a grumpy gus - but I write policy for the government and this topic is very close to my heart.

May. 04 2012 01:51 PM
Marcos from Barcelona, Spain
May. 03 2012 12:22 PM
luis from Peru

i want to know where the transcrips are?
i am an English student from Peru


Apr. 28 2012 11:13 AM

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