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Keeping it Clear: Writing at USDA

The White House has called upon all federal agencies to “keep it simple” when it comes to writing. Here at USDA, we are committed to communicating clearly so that we can provide you with the most useful information possible.   As Secretary Tom Vilsack has said, “Using plain writing is indispensable to achieving our goals of providing first-class customer service and ensuring access to our programs.”

Officially implemented this past fall, the Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires all federal agencies to write “clear, concise, well-organized” documents “that the public can understand and use.” This is a part of the Obama Administration’s larger effort to create a transparent government that promotes public participation. To ensure that USDA meets our obligations, we are training our employees on writing techniques that avoid the complicated language that can confuse and frustrate the public we serve.

Across all agencies, we are using various online training tools, such as this one developed by AgLearn, USDA’s on-line learning center, to make sure that all of our employees are up to speed.

Our Natural Resources Conversation Services Executive Correspondence Management Team (ECMT) is a prime example when it comes to leading the way in our plain writing efforts. Everyday, ECMT receives inquiries from a variety of stakeholders, ranging from Members of Congress to conservation partners to concerned citizens. Because of their concerted efforts to improve their agency’s correspondence process, ECMT recently received a “Golden Envelope Award”, recognizing their strides in improving response time and decreasing inaccuracies.

We encourage everyone to read our Plain Writing Act Compliance Report which outlines our Department plan for ensuring compliance with the Act. Beginning in April 2012, we will continue to keep you in the loop with our annual progress.

For more information about USDA’s Plain Writing initiatives click here.

3 Responses to “Keeping it Clear: Writing at USDA”

  1. Patty Yaralian says:

    Being that USDA is such a diversified group of people, it would be clear communication when writing about a person with a unique name (being foreign or of some different nationality), that the pronunciation form follow in parenthesis. It would be beneficial if we could say their name correctly and respectfully, besides making us appear educated. Sincerely Patty Yaralian (your-all-in).

  2. Stephen Smarik says:

    An essential component to communicating clearly in written documents is ample proofreading. Spell-check is not adequate, as can be seen in your article where an agency was embarrassingly misspelled.
    Also, in a perfect world, I would agree with Patty Yaralian, above. However the world is not perfect. At least 65% of the time, either my first or my last name is mispronounced. Almost as frequently, either my first name or my last is misspelled. If I corrected everyone, people might perceive me to be annoyed at humanity. Parenthetical helpers would only exacerbate the problem with my name. Besides appearing unflattering in print, accents would be placed on the wrong syllables and my name would still be mispronounced. Sincerely,
    Stephen (Steeve-in) Smarik (Smair-ick)

  3. Jerome says:

    The link for the AgLearn course is incorrect. The correct link is:

    https://aglearn.usda.gov/customcontent/OES/OES-PlainWriting-web/startCourse_USDA-PWTR02_1631.html

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