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Part 2

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WRITING USER-FRIENDLY DOCUMENTS


Write In a Visually Appealing Style ||
More About Techniques for Better Writing ||
Identify Your Audience ||
Organize Your Documents Carefully ||


Write in a visually appealing style

We want our documents to help readers get information, comply with requirements, and apply for benefits with the minimum possible burden. Visually appealing documents are far easier to understand than more traditional styles.

Traditional government documents are often dense and confusing. Replace blocks of text with headings, tables, and more white space. You will help your reader by making the main points readily apparent and grouping related items together. Use a clear and uncrowded presentation and your readers will be more likely to understand what you want to convey. In turn, your readers will be more likely to do what you want them to do in their dealings with your agency.


How can you make your documents visually appealing?

With visual layout, you draw your readers' attention to information they need to know. Even though various government requirements, such as the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) format, constrain government writers in a number of ways, you can still take significant steps to make your documents visually appealing to the reader.


Use lots of informative headings

Headings attract your readers' attention to important information. They help readers find their way through a document and locate important points.

Pack each heading with lots of information. How often have you seen several different sections entitled "applications" or "appeals" in one set of regulations? Applications for what? Appeals of what? If you say "Applications for underground mining permits on public land" the reader knows exactly what you are talking about, and knows the difference between that section and another section entitled "Applications for a temporary use permit to transport cattle across public land."

On the other hand, headings should not be so long that they overwhelm the material in the section itself. (For more about informative headings, see "Use Lots of Informative Headings," page 20)


Write short sections

Short sections break up the material into easily understood segments and allow you to introduce a little white space. Short sections look easier to read and understand. Long sections can appear difficult and forbidding, even before someone tries to read them. (For more about section length, see "Divide Your Material Into Short Sections," page 21.)


Include only one issue in each designated paragraph

Limiting each paragraph to one issue gives the document a clean appearance and contributes to the impression that it is easy to read and understand. By presenting only one issue in each designated paragraph, you can use informative headings that reflect the entire issue covered by the paragraph. (For more about keeping paragraphs to one issue, see "Limit Each Paragraph to One Topic," page 22.)


Use vertical lists

Vertical lists highlight a series of requirements or other information in a visually clear way. Use vertical lists to help your reader focus on important material. Vertical lists--

  • Highlight levels of importance

  • Help the reader understand the order in which things happen

  • Make it easy for the reader to identify all necessary steps in a process

  • Add blank space for easy reading

(For more about vertical lists, see "Use Lots of Lists," page 23.


Use tested emphasis techniques to highlight important points

At the present time, the emphasis technique we discuss in this section apply only to letters. Emphasis techniques are useful to draw the readers attention to a line or two. You should use techniques like bold and italics which have been tested on readers; they draw the reader's attention to the area and are easy to read. You shouldn't use ALL CAPS which are much harder to read.

For more about the most effective and least effective techniques, see--

"Emphasis Techniques In Your Letters"


In Conclusion  ...

If you follow the suggestions we've outlined in this section, you'll make a major contribution to the success of your agency's documents. By writing clearly and in a visually appealing style, you'll help your readers understand and comply with your programs. Well-written documents will do a lot to improve reader satisfaction and earn praise for your agency.


2.  More About Techniques for Better Writing


This section provides examples of how to use the techniques listed in the introduction. The examples are drawn from different agencies across the Federal government. Because this guidance was written initially for regulations writers, most of the examples are from regulations. You can find examples of other document types by clicking on the appropriate buttons. You won't find any of these exact examples in the Code of Federal Regulations. We've altered them to provide what we think are better examples of the techniques we recommend.

In the rest of this handbook, we've used the symbols below to help indicate visually the points we're making.


We've used . . . to indicate . . .
[checkmark] particularly important concepts
[thumbsdown] bad examples of plain English
[thumbsup] our suggestions for a better presentation of the same subject matter
italicsexamples of text



Identify Your Audience

[checkmark]Identify who is affected by a document and write to get their attention and answer their questions.

You have to grab your readers' attention if you want to get your ideas across. Let's face it, readers just want to know what applies to them. The best way to grab and hold their attention is to figure out who they are and what they want to know. Put yourself in their shoes. It will give you a new perspective.

Tell your readers why the material is important to them. Say, "If you want a research grant, here's what you have to do." Or, "If you want to mine Federal coal, here's what you should know." Or, "If you are planning a trip to Rwanda, read this first."

"Identify Your Audience In Letters"

Many times a document has more than one audience. You may be talking to exporters and importers, or coal miners and surface owners, or airlines and passengers. NEPA documents typically speak to both stakeholders and agency decisonmakers. Break your documents down into essential elements and determine which elements apply to each part of your audience. Then group the elements according to who is affected. If you are writing about research grants, first tell the professors what they have to do, then tell the university accounting department what it has to do.

Identify clearly who you are speaking to in each section. Don't make a reader go through material only to find out at the end that the section doesn't apply.

[thumbsdown] [thumbsup]
Grant applicants must provide the following information:
(a) Prior experience in the area covered by the grant;
(b) Publications relevant to the area of the grant;
(c) Other grants held at the time of application;
(d) Name and address of the chief financial officer;
(e) Nature of in-kind match being provided;
(f) Approved overhead rate; and
(g) Total proposed budget.

(a)  When you apply for a grant, you must send us:

(1) A description of your experience in the area covered by the grant; and

(2) Copies of any material that you have published relevant to the area of the grant.

(b) Your financial office must send us--

(1) The name and address of the chief financial officer;

(2) A description of the in-kind match you will provide;

(3) Your approved overhead rate; and

(4) A proposed budget.



[checkmark] Write to address your readers and their interests.


"Organize Your Letters Carefully"


[checkmark]Well-organized, detailed tables of contents make it easy for the reader to identify all elements in a series.

Part of serving your readers better is organizing your regulation or other document so that they can understand how a program works and where to find instructions for each step they need to complete. Your table of contents should be a reliable road map that readers can follow to get through a process painlessly. The table of contents below is organized in a logical sequence for a discretionary grant program. The organization follows the order in which events occur and the order in which the public might ask questions about the program.


Part 791:  Javits Gifted and Talented Students

Subpart A:  How the Grant Program Work
 
Sec.
791.1       What is the Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program?
791.2     Am I eligible for a Javits Grant?
791.3       What activities are appropriate for Javits Grant funding?
791.4       What funding priorities may the Secretary establish?
791.5       What other regulations apply to the Javits Grant?
791.6       What definitions apply to the Javits Grant?

Subpart B:  How to Apply for an Award

791.10    Where can I write to obtain a Javits Grant application?
791.11    What materials do I need to submit to be considered for a Javits Grant?
791.12    Where do I send my application?
791.13     When is my application due?

Subpart C:  How the Secretary Makes an Award

791.20    How will the Secretary evaluate my application for a Javits Grant?
791.21    What selection criteria does the Secretary use to award Javits Grants?
791.22    Does the Secretary consider additional factors?

Subpart D:  Grantees' Rights and Responsibilities

791.30    Under what conditions may I use my Javits Grant award?
791.31    What are my responsibilities for serving students and teachers in private schools?


The same organization works well for almost any type of regulation. Here's an example of an administrative regulation--


Part 725--CLAIMS FOR BENEFITS UNDER THE FEDERAL MINE SAFETY AND HEALTH ACT

General

725.1       What does this program cover?
725.2       What special terms do I need to know to understand this part?

Who is Covered

725.201Who is entitled to benefits under this program?
725.202How long can my benefits last?
725.203Are my dependents entitled to benefits?
725.204How long will their benefits last?
725.205Am I still eligible if I am convicted of a felony?

How to Apply for Benefits

725.301How do I file a claim?
725.302Can other people give evidence on my behalf?
725.303Are there any time limits for filing my claim?
725.304Can I modify or withdraw my claim?

How to Appeal Agency Decisions

725.401 Can I appeal a decision if I don't agree with it?
725.402 How do I file an appeal?
725.403 How long do I have to file my appeal?
725.404 What types of evidence must I submit?
725.405 What happens if I won't get a medical examination?


[checkmark]Organize your table of contents in a logical order that responds to your readers' concerns.

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