Plain language could mean big bucks for state governments

State governments everywhere are looking for more revenue. They should turn to writers.

Tax collectors in Washington state collected millions more dollars after taking one simple step: rewriting letters to taxpayers to make them more understandable.

According to a story by Amanda J. Crawford, this approach is gaining momentum. Arizona is one state that’s intrigued.

“I’m thinking, ‘Really? You just change words on paper and good things will happen?’ ” said Arizona’s director of revenue, Gale Garriott.

Officials in California, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon and Texas are also taking a look at their forms.

Really? Only those six states?

The plain language movement, a legitimate, 35-year effort to eliminate government-speak in documents normal people are supposed to be able to understand, has been around for decades. (Somewhat ironically, President Richard Nixon was a big advocate.)

Crawford explains:

The goals are simple: Make documents understandable on the first read. Make them useful and easy to scan for information through better design, headings and bullets. Use language geared for the intended audience.

One example:

Before: “The Arizona Department of Revenue has received your Transaction Privilege Tax (TPT) license/withholding registration application form and found that insufficient information has been provided to allow us to process your request.”

After: “We cannot process your license application because required information is missing.”

Spread the word to your state’s lawmakers! And if you’re a writer, start building your plain-language portfolio.

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