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.)
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.
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.