I saw the letter and quickly handed it to my wife. I’ve been a writer for much of my professional life, but I’ve noticed something new lately, when it comes to the printed word, I have absolutely no patience for bureaucratic double-talk and jargon.
The letter was a simple note from our state Department of Motor Vehicles and dealt with the registration for one of our cars, but it couldn’t have been more confusing. The nameless author used ten words when one or two could have been enough.
Fortunately, my wife took one look at the letter and was able to decipher with her built-in BS detector that we had made a mistake when we sent our registration. She handed the letter back to me and gave me a look that said “duh,” what was so difficult about that.
I’m normally a patient sort, but I can’t stand when government agencies and their staffs can’t use the English that God gave us to explain themselves. Yes, I know they’re writing form letters for the masses, have to cover every-and-all situations that might come up, and have been reviewed and re-reviewed by teams of teams of legal experts, but it’s not that difficult. I fail to understand why they have to use the most confusing, mind-numbing language and have to kill off whatever life once existed in the letter.
To make matters worse, with the rise of the web, most government agencies now find it easier to hide behind a web address than to provide a number or office department to follow-up on with any questions. Their subtle message: Here’s your answer, if you don’t like it or if you have questions, good luck finding someone to contact. You’re on your own sucker!
I’m happy though to know that I’m not alone in my quest for plain talk and clear thinking. At least on paper. The Plain Writing Act of 2010 was signed on October 13, 2010 and requires that federal agencies use clear government communication that the public can understand and use.
To steal from the federal guidelines:
“Words matter. They are the most basic building blocks of written and spoken communication. Don’t complicate things by using jargon, technical terms, or abbreviations that people won’t understand. Choose your words carefully and be consistent in your writing style.”
Now there’s some government writing I can get behind.
Of course, I prefer how William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White explain it in their classic writing guide, The Elements of Style:
“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”
If only, everyone followed those same guidelines.