Early October President Obama signed the "Plain Writing Act", requiring the Federal Government to write documents, like tax forms, in easy-to-understand English.
How it works: Under the new law, every Federal Agency will appoint a "plain writing official" to supervise implementation of the act. They will train employees how to write in plain, simple English. This means if things go according to plan, a plan-writing page will be accessible from the home page of Federal websites like IRS.gov.
Why I'm Leary: This isn't the first time that legal jargon in governemnt documents has been debated. Government officials have lobbied to simplify government language for years. During the Clinton administration, Vice President Al Gore enacted the Plain Language Action Network.
On their website PlainLanguage.gov you can see a before and after of an IRS letter from 2002. The "After" is supposed to be easier to understand, but it's still confusing for the average citizen. The layout improved from the "before", but the language needs some work:
Plain Writing Act Facts
The Plain Writing Act only applies to documents that meet the following criteria:
This means the IRS's complex tax rules and regulations will not become easier to decipher, don't expect those thousand-page stacks of documents to become easier to read than they are today any time soon.
- the document is used for communications withthe public
- the document is one necessary for obtaining government benefit or service
- the document is used for filing taxes
- the document provides information about any federal government benefit or service
- the document describes how to comply with a requirement that the government administers or enforces