The Federation Press

Organising a Plain-Language Project


There is more to producing an effective a plain language document than writing clearer English. Before you start, you need to settle what precisely you are expecting to achieve and how.

Is the existing document too complex? Or is the real problem an underlying policy which is too complex? Should you be reviewing other documents at the same time? Do you really know how the existing document works?

This manual is designed to help those starting on a plain-language project. It covers how to set up and manage a project and how to measure the effects of plain language documents. The authors take a step-by-step approach, detailing a process for use when starting a plain-language project. There is also a checklist summarising the processes and procedures involved.

Table of Contents


Planning and organising

Working out the scope of the project
What is the purpose of the project? What is the problem you are trying to solve?/ Is the document too complex, or is the underlying policy too complex?/ Are there other changes taking place in the organisation at the same time you will be working on the document?/ Have you established the full range of documents that you will have to review?/ What do you know about how the document works and how the organisation uses it?

The document
What types of document are you planning to rewrite?/ What is the purpose of the document?/ Who is the document’s audience?/ How will the main audience use the document?/ What are the limits on what you can do with the document?/ Writing the document

Administering the project
What support do you have for producing a new document?/ Does management understand the project’s objectives?/ Should you set up a plain-language committee?/ What type of expertise does the committee need?/ The committee should draw up the brief for the plain-language expert who will re-draft the document/ Are staff who will use the new documents involved in the process of producing the new document?/ What is the procedure for making decisions and resolving conflicts about the document?/ Have you set out a project schedule and critical dates?/ Do you have a plan for testing and reviewing the new document?/ Do you have a plan for implementing the new document?/ Do you have a strategy for staff to support the new document?

Monitoring and evaluation
Monitoring how the existing application forms are used
Do you know enough about how the existing forms are used?/ How does the organisation process applications?/ How do clients use the application forms?/ Is the organisation likely to make any independent changes while the plain-language project is under way?

The fieldwork approach to studying the clients’ experience
Asking the clients to report on how they use the application forms / How to plan such a survey of clients’ experiences/ Learning indirectly about the user’s experience in making an application

The fieldwork approach to measuring outcomes and task-times
Recording outcomes of applications/ Why you should consider timing processing tasks/ How to time processing tasks/ Some personnel issues

The laboratory approach to task-timing
Timing "clients" in the laboratory/ Laboratory timing of the organisation’s processing tasks

Valuing the costs and benefits
Measuring and valuing the inputs/ Identifying and valuing the benefits/ How to structure the overall calculation of the economic measure


Of interest...