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  • Writer's picturejeannettesutton

The importance of plain language and instruction

Plain language makes it easier for the public to read, understand, and use government communications. Its wording, structure, and design are clear so that the audience can easily find what they need in the message.

a boil alert written in all caps about potable water

This message, written in ALL CAPS displayed to the right, lacks a design that makes it easy to read and contains words that are difficult to understand, lacking in details about the hazard and the actions that are necessary to address it.

For example - who is "emergency management," what is a "boil alert," and what should be done during a "boil alert," what does the word "potable" mean? Also missing is information about the timing of the alert.

Research has shown that the use of jargon and technical language may be a simple way to communicate complex ideas, but it only communicates to people who are already familiar the language or are motivated enough to look for more information to interpret the content. When content is difficult to understand, we will often ignore it and move on without making the effort to figure it out.

In the revised message, we've revised the content order, added details, and eliminated jargon words and replaced them with plain language. The message now includes:

a revised boil water message

Source: Watonwan Emergency Management

Hazard: Boil Water alert due to contamination

Location: City of Lasalle

Time: 1/16 and until further notice

Guidance: bring water to a rolling boil for 3 minutes and then cool before drinking, washing, or cooking with city water

We've also included a website for more information about water safety, boiling water, and where to get updates.

We also use ALL CAPS sparingly - focusing only on the hazard itself so that the message is easier to read and draws attention to key words.

For more recommended contents, be sure to download The Warning Lexicon - it's free and offers step-by-step instructions on how to write a better warning message.


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