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Writing

Webinar Recap: Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) June Meeting

This month’s Plain Language of Community Practice meeting featured Katherine Spivey’s presentation, Plain Language Spectrum: Every Step Counts! In this highly useful DigitalGov University (DGU) webinar, she explains how you can move forward with plain language even when you don’t have permission to edit copy, followed by a half hour Q & A session. Many people don’t get plain language (also known as plain communication or plain writing) right the very first time, but through practice, can gain clarity and improve their plain language skills.

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Build Your Audience by Hosting a Twitter Chat

Twitter is more than just a platform for sharing news and updates: it can be a tool for directly communicating with your community and understanding what is important to them. One way you can connect with your Twitter audience is by hosting a Twitter Chat. They can be a good way to discuss key topics, raise awareness, and exchange knowledge and resources between you and the community. Several HIV organizations host Twitter chats on health topics, during HIV awareness days relevant to their community, and/or during HIV/AIDS conferences.

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Writing for the Web Is Easy. Writing for Users Is Not.

We all do it. Whether on Twitter, Facebook, or the comment section on a news article, it’s easy to get our writing on the internet. Many of us have personal websites or contribute to blogs. We work at organizations with content management systems that allow us to publish pages with a single button click. The fact that it’s so easy to publish content can trick us into thinking it’s equally easy to write useful content.

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The Content Corner: Will You Read This Entire Post?

Deep down we’ve always known that people only read a small portion of any content shared online. In many ways that can’t be fixed but there are ways to help people read more or at least scan better. There was a book I loved as a child that featured the Sesame Street character Grover, titled The Monster at the End of this Book, where Grover keeps warning the reader to stop turning pages because there is going to be a scary monster at the end.

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Transcreation: Why Do We Need It?

Transcreation is a relatively new term that blends the words translation and creation. In a nutshell, transcreation involves taking a concept in one language and completely recreating it in another language. A successfully transcreated message (either written or visual) evokes the same emotions and carries the same implications in the target language as it does in the source language, but in a way that resonates with the target audience. What’s the big deal you may wonder?

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The Content Corner: Four Ways to Help Your Content Stand Out

When discussing trends for 2016, I made some mention of the content overload that started in 2015 but will certainly increase in 2016. Contently recently found that organizations created 73% more content in 2015 than in 2014. I see no reason why that number will decline in 2016, especially as content becomes the beast of burden of choice for a majority of organizations both public and private. Today, I wanted to share some content types that you can leverage to possibly help stand out among the deluge.

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Good Content Needs Plain Language

If good content is essential to good user experience, as Tyrus Manuel proposes in his November 23, 2015, DigitalGov post, then plain language is also part of good user experience. Plain language helps the public do what they need to do—find forms, apply for benefits, look up information and more—when they use federal websites and other digital tools. All federal agencies are supposed to implement the Plain Writing Actplain-writing-act-of-2010/), the law that requires plain language when we communicate with the public.

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The Content Corner: Is Pair Writing Right for You?

Fresh from last week’s article about workflows and their importance in the content creation process, I stumbled upon a new twist in content production known as pair writing. Many of you familiar with agile methodologies or software programming in general should know the term pair programming. Pair writing hopes to take some of the same efficiencies found in pair programming and apply them to content creation. Two Heads Are Better Than One Pair programming gained prominence in the early 2000s as a method to improve the quality of software by having two programmers work together while coding.

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Getting Serious About Good Writing—EIA’s Write Right Curriculum

Let’s see–you want to improve the skills of your agency’s writers. Here’s a to-do list: Enlist a high-level champion, ideally your agency head, to make statements saying writing skills are critical—check. Create a Writing Style Guide—check. Hold classes to introduce the Style Guide—check. Expand internal editing resources—check. But what’s next? If you really want to move to the next level, try what the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) did in 2015—create a comprehensive writing curriculum, tailored to your agency, with customized classes for a broad range of staff and managers.

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Roadmap for Creating a Writing Style Guide: One Step at a Time

So, you’re tired of seeing little (or big!) errors on your agency’s website, and you flinch at the random writing styles. You feel like your agency’s content is good, but there are still too many inconsistencies. What you need is an agency Writing Style Guide. A good guide can set styles that improve your agency’s communication and credibility. How do you create a Writing Style Guide? What goes in it?

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Technical Writing Need Not Be Abstruse—Use Plain Language for Maximum Impact

Author writes: Additionally, the method utilized a myriad of factors for the purpose of incentivizing production to hit record-high levels of magnitude in the equivalent time period. Author thinks: My work sounds serious, impressive and interesting. Reader thinks: Huh? Technical writers are great—some of my favorite colleagues are technical writers. But technical writers often need help communicating their important thoughts in plain language. As an editor of technical, statistical reports, I see authors making a number of mistakes in approach, execution and English.

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Income Scams Are Subject of New FTC Fotonovela

The FTC’s second Spanish-language fotonovela is about scams that promise you can make money selling high-end products or brand-name merchandise. If the pitch sounds familiar, that’s because the story is based on facts from a recent [Federal Trade Commission] FTC lawsuit against a company that targeted Spanish speakers nationwide. Income Scams tells the story of Fatima, a consumer who is looking for a way to earn some extra money.

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Using Plain Language to Write for the Web

Plain language will make you a better writer. For federal employees, it’s also the law. On September 9th, Katherine Spivey, Co-Chair of the Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN), presented a webinar on plain writing principles and how to apply them to Web writing. She also addressed how federal writers can comply with the Plain Writing Act of 2010. For Spivey, plain language comes down to one simple question.

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The Content Corner: Should You Stop Writing and Start Podcasting?

Several months or so ago, I raised the question of whether you and your agency should be podcasting. Incidentally, my post coincided with the launch of DigitalGov’s new podcast series. As I discussed in my previous post, the long-niche broadcasting format has continued to grow in popularity and success with popular podcasts such as NPR’s Serial and Marc Maron’s WTF podcast series that recently featured President Obama as a guest.

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FAQs Done Right

Top FAQ Tips {.post-title} Designing and Editing FAQs {.post-title} Turning FAQs Into Web Content {.post-title} In the circle of Web content life, FAQ sections are an endangered species. We’ve previously discussed the relevance of FAQs: Should FAQs go extinct, or are they a useful tool in your content ecosystem? Kathryn Catania, Chief of the Plain Language and Content Division at the U.

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The Content Corner: Optimize Your Content

For the past several weeks, I have been writing about fairly cerebral and more technical aspects of content generation and language in general. This week, I felt it was time to get back to a more basic content concept: content optimization. Frequently when content optimization is discussed it is heavily focused on search engine optimization (SEO) and the development of keywords. Doing everything you can to help people find the information you have created is important, but it goes far beyond chasing a search engine’s ever-changing algorithm.

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18F’s Style Guide for Open Source Project Documentation

We routinely publish our best practices in the 18F Guides, and today we’re happy to launch a new one: the 18F Open Source Style Guide. The Open Source Style Guide is a comprehensive handbook for writing clear, accessible, and user-friendly documentation so that your open source code repositories are accessible both internally and externally. It’s important to make sure our documentation is clear both for internal and external audiences.

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Get Out of the Jargon Trap: Plain Language Training Can Help

I don’t know about your agency. But most agencies are going forward with plans to implement millennial asset paradigm shifts. It’s time that we became uber-efficient with our interactive modular matrix approaches. We need a more blue-sky approach to homogenized modular options and functional reciprocal concepts. Our exploratory research points to systemized logistical time-phases. I say unequivocally that it’s time to revamp and reboot our logistical innovation. You’re either scratching your head over that first paragraph, trying to figure out what it means, or laughing out loud at how ridiculous it sounds, full of jargon, clichés, overly complicated words.

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Social Media: Accessibility Issues and Solutions

The more public information is digitized, the more it lands on or sprouts from social media channels. This is why there needs to be a greater level of awareness and consideration for those who can benefit most from that information—people with disabilities—since they have the least access to it. Like many websites, social media platforms present some of the greatest barriers in digital accessibility. Social media connects people and so much more Social media is a part of millions of people’s daily activities, from job searches to finding important information that can affect them as individuals, family members, students, caregivers, and more.

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Using Visual Content to Drive Engagement

You’ve probably noticed the trend toward more visual content being shared across social platforms—pictures, infographics and how-to videos seem to be popping up everywhere. We certainly noticed that trend across several government social media properties, so when USA.gov was preparing to launch our campaign introducing the 2014 Consumer Action Handbook (CAH), we wanted to create highly-visual social content to see how it would do in comparison to standard text and link social content.

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Civic Hacking: Pathways for Participation

The National Day of Civic Hacking is actually a weekend. An awe-inspiring two days of collaborative work where coders, designers, writers, innovative thinkers, and data geeks get together to solve problems and build things for their communities. For the Challenge.gov community, this is a fantastic opportunity to get live, hands-on experience talking with and working next to people in a real-time hacking environment. If you’re thinking about running a competition around data sets or have an idea you want to float to developers, you can do it here first and see what feedback and traction you get, before committing to a full-fledged prize competition.

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How to Tell Your Agency’s Story—Plainly

You’ve got the right words, the active verbs, the carefully chosen adjectives and adverbs. You’ve got the facts. You’ve got the talking points. All you have to do is put it together, right? Wait. What you want to tell people is not necessarily what they need to know. I know it’s hard to organize material for your reader, but it’s the key to writing in plain language. Besides being the law, it’s also a best practice and the best way for getting people to read your content.

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Plain Language Page Titles: More Important than Ever

Government Web pages are found mainly through search engines. Google recently redesigned its search results page and there are quite a few small, but impactful, changes in this latest redesign. Specifically, it affects how page titles are displayed. Many experts now recommend even shorter page titles. Below are a couple of articles (plus tools) to see how the change may affect your page titles: Page Title & Meta Description By Pixel Width In SERP Snippet

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Creating E-Books: Think Functionality, Not Aesthetics

E-books are great for one thing: reading on mobile devices. Their reflowable text adjusts to fit the reader’s smartphone, tablet or e-reader in the type size the reader chooses. They are essential for reading on smartphones, and better than pdf’s for all but the biggest tablets. But e-books are not great for design. They’re generally single column, with images “anchored” within the text flow. Graphical enhancements are very limited, and are supported differently (if at all) on different devices.

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Plain Language Ninja

A few days ago a coworker asked me to look at a paragraph. He said it was on the top customer service priorities in our division. So I scooted my chair over and looked at it. Then I looked at him and asked, “But what is it supposed to do?” He said, “It’s supposed to convey, at a very high level, what we’re doing in the next year.” I said, “Oh.

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