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Archived from our former blog, The Beacon.
The USCIS Plain Language Program: Striving to Communicate More Clearly
Let’s face it: The immigration process can be complex and frustrating – even if you are a native-speaker of English. So just imagine how those who speak English as a second language sometimes feel. In many instances, it is not the complexity of a process or task that poses the greatest obstacle – but the dense, jargon-laced language that we use to describe it. In other words, how we communicate is just as important as what we communicate.
That’s why we started the USCIS Plain Language program, which teaches employees how to provide clear and usable information to those we serve. As head of the USCIS Plain Language program, I start by putting myself in the reader’s shoes. Before I put pen-to-paper, I ask three simple questions:
- Who am I writing for?
- Will my audience understand what I’ve written?
- Will readers be able to act competently (if action is required) on the information I’ve provided?
That’s why I'm so passionate about plain language, because at the end of the day, it's really about common sense and showing consideration and respect for those we serve. I also enjoy sharing the importance of writing clearly with others in government. On October 13, I had the chance to speak at the Center for Plain Language Workshop at the National Press Club.
- Active voice – showing who is doing the action upfront in a sentence
- Short sentences and paragraphs
- Lists of required items
- Tables for complex "if"/"then" procedures
- Words that don’t require the reader to pick up a thesaurus.
- Improved e-filing instructions on our website;
- Provided clearer web pages on international adoptions in response to a Congressional inquiry;
- Re-organized, shortened and clarified the information from the Customer Service Number;
- Created the new Avoid Scams section of our website; and
- Wrote the I-9 Central web pages.