October 19, 2011 | Barb Carr

Root Cause Analysis Tip: How to Use the Plain Writing Act to Avoid the Grammar Police

Have you ever heard someone jokingly say, “Oh no, it’s the grammar police”? Well, look out, because they’re officially on patrol, enforcing the Plain Writing Act of 2010.

What is it?

President Obama signed The Plain Writing Act of 2010 last October, requiring that all government documents addressed to the public must be “accessible, consistent, written in plain language, and easy to understand.”

The goal of this act is to protect the public from legal and safety issues. For example, one woman signed a document agreeing to a hysterectomy, finding this out only after her surgery was done.

Why do I care?

Only government-created documents for the public are required to adhere to this law. If you work for the U.S. government or a government contracting company, you’re likely to rewrite some of your documents and create new ones that fit these guidelines.

What if you don’t work for an organization like this? Use these straightforward guidelines when writing your procedures, memos, reports and other essential documents. You reader will understand you better- he or she will follow your procedure, heed your memo, and respond to your reports and corrective actions in a way that changes your company for the better.

What should I do about it?

Use TapRooT®, your company’s guidelines, and the Center for Plain Language’s guidelines to create a seamless method of communication in your company. Use this list as a place to start:

– Conduct a TapRooT® proactive analysis on your procedures and internal communications. Use TapRooT®’s Procedures Corrective Actions to improve your procedure.

Some examples:

  1. Simplify the steps.
  2. Rewrite the procedure so that it can be performed more efficiently.
  3. Flow chart a procedure that contains complex instructions.
  4. Change the procedure’s level of detail to fit the user’s skill level.
  5. Read Procedure Writing Principles and Practices by Douglas Wieringa, Christopher Moore, and Valerie Barnes.
  6. For more TapRooT® guidelines, look at your Corrective Action Helper® pp. 31-33.

– Use the guidelines provided by the Center for Plain Language.

Some examples:

  1. Identify your audience.
  2. Use personal pronouns.
  3. Use graphics and tables.
  4. Don’t use the phrase ‘and/or’.
  5. Don’t use multiple negatives.
  6. For more click here.

– Create guidelines for your internal communications so that everyone easily understands them.

– Analyze your investigation reports. Check out these TapRooT® guidelines.

– Use the checklist from the Center for Plain Language to proofread your report. One example:

“A document, website, or other information is in plain language if…

  1. The basic approach specifies who will use it, why they will use it, and what tasks they will do with it. Consider if the basic approach:
  2. Identifies the audiences and is clearly created for them.
  3. Focuses on the major audiences and their top questions and tasks.
  4. Does not try to be everything to everyone.”
  5. To see the full checklist including Design, Structure, Hierarchy, Language, and more click here.

Maybe the grammar police aren’t really out to get you. But make these few simple changes to your reports, procedures, and internal communications and you’ll see an improvement so huge, it must be illegal!

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