Plain language received a major boost in the USA when President Obama signed off on the Plain Writing Act of 2010.

The law now requires that all US federal agencies use “clear Government communication that the public can understand and use” (radical concept, hey?). In the case of online information, the US Government’s plainlanguage.gov says websites should give users:

  • a logical structure, so they know where to look for information
  • an easy-to-use interface to get them to that information
  • easily understandable information.

They note that “A website needs all these elements (information architecture, usability, and plain language) to be successful.”

US websites that best achieve these goals are recognised with the Washington’s Centre for Plain Language Clearmark Awards.

Websites are judged on their:

  • design and structure (architecture and navigation)
  • graphics
  • language
  • accessibility.
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The Clearmark Award overall winner for Plain Language website in 2016

The judges also consider the quality of user testing, and whether a site stayed focused on its purpose throughout.

The overall winner, and long website winner in 2016 is a Federal Trade Commission website IdentifyTheft.gov. It’s not hard to imagine that some users of this site are likely to be anxious and stressed, so it’s vital that this information is given clearly and simply.

Judges comments were: “Based on the research conducted as well as the good use of design principles, I’m confident that target users will be able to find, understand, and act confidently using what they learn on this site. I’d absolutely use it as an example of effective plain writing and information design!”

 

The winner of the short website category was another United States government agency – The Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services and 18F  – USCIS: Plain-language resources for naturalization.

Winner of the short website award, 2016

Winner of the short website award for Plain Language website, 2016

This website is used by many people who do not have English as their first language.

The judges comments reflect how hard this team have worked to make this site fully accessible; “A clear winner in this category. The three judges unanimously agreed on most points, and the design and writing exceeded what could be expected. It is particularly nice that a government agency takes this initiative and shows that it really is possible to have clear writing, contemporary design, and a very thorough approach to user-involvement in the processes. An excellent example and a deserved winner.”

 

It’s also worthwhile visiting Clearmark Awards to see the websites that were finalists.


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