I am setting forth ten commandments for writers in the public sector, based on my dissertation and on standards for clear writing. The commandments will each appear as a Word of the Week.
Write from the viewpoint of a member of the public.
You need to move from your desk to wherever local residents face issues in everyday life.
Here’s a good route to that point of view: ask residents to read your draft and discuss it with you. You’ll find out what terms are unfamiliar to them, and you in turn will learn expressions that they use. Reviewing a draft with three to five people can uncover many barriers to communication.
A user-centric tone is deeply connected to content choice, and the writer of the original text is in a critical position. Editors lack the time, the authority, and often the expertise to make major changes that increase the focus on the user. For real improvement on a large scale, you need to increase the communication skill and the language awareness of the expert authors. Today, unfortunately, quality control is left to secretaries and publicists.
The subjects in my research emphasized the public’s point of view, both in terms of content and of presentation order. They removed terminology and administrative classifications (local versus centralized services) and instead used familiar everyday words (library, dental clinic).
Using the perspective of your intended reader will help you steer your word choice in the right direction.