Writing for the government requires a particular style that emphasizes clarity. If your job involves writing content for government booklets, it’s important to learn what the government expects. Your government booklets must use the right government communication style, be designed for easy reading, and meet government printing guidelines. Follow these tips to successfully create your government booklets.
- What Types of Publications Does the Government Print?
- Use the Government Communication Guidelines
- Get Your Government Booklets Ready for Publication
- You Can Produce Readable, Attractive Government Booklets
What Types of Publications Does the Government Print?
Federal, state, and local governments all produce published materials. These publications are freely available to the public, and they help create an informed society. They promote transparency and help spur participation in the democratic process. In some cases, government booklets provide guidelines for citizens who want clear guidelines about everything from protecting their health to choosing energy-efficient appliances.
In short, these publications play an important role in our lives. They can guide us to making better decisions and help the government foster public trust. At the federal level, these government booklets typically include:
- Official reports
- Policy documents
- Legislative acts
- Budgetary reports
- Strategic plans
- White papers
- Research studies
- Statistical data reports
- Census reports
State governments have their own government booklets that explain the unique laws and policies of a state, which can sometimes differ from those of the federal government. They provide a resource for citizens and policymakers who want to know more about state laws and unique state initiatives. Among these publications are:
- State budget reports
- Economic development plans
- State-specific environmental laws
- Legislative session reports
- Healthcare initiatives
- Environmental and zoning regulations
- Zoning laws
- Education initiatives
- State agency publications
Local governments publish government booklets that are specific to a particular county, city, or region. They cover many topics, including:
- Local ordinances
- Zoning laws
- Public meeting agendas
- Council meeting agendas
- Community development plans
- Local economic and workforce data
- Weather and disaster announcements
- Responses to local events
- Services available to residents
Use the Government Communication Guidelines
The best way to ensure your government booklets are properly written is to follow the government’s guidelines.
The Plain Action and Information Network (PLAIN) was established to help writers follow the requirements of the Plain Writing Act, which was passed in 2010. The community is a group of government employees who emphasize the need for clear government communication. As PLAIN states, “We believe that using plain language saves federal agencies time and money and provides better service to the American public.”
The PLAIN website is an excellent resource for all writers who want to produce government booklets and other government communication products. It describes the Federal Plain Language Guidelines, explains how to use the act to write clearly, and provides extensive examples of plain language.
Here are some tips from PLAIN. Use them when you’re writing for government booklets.
Use Simple Language for Government Booklets
Most government publications are written by and for Congress. Government language is often based on legal terminology, so it can become dense with jargon, unusual acronyms, and government terms that don’t make sense outside the halls of Congress.
Have you ever read a legal filing? The language can be convoluted and complex. However, these filings aren’t meant to be read by the public—but government publications are. The government expects the public to read, understand, and use these publications. Plain language guidelines ensure that that’s what happens.
Here are PLAIN’s tips for using simple language:
- Prefer the familiar word to the far-fetched.
- Prefer the concrete word to the abstraction.
- Prefer the single word to the circumlocution.
- Prefer the short word to the long.
- Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance word.
Concise writing is key to clear communication. After you get the basic points that you want to get across, edit for clarity and concision. Go through your writing, eliminate excess words, and omit information the reader doesn’t need. Don’t get bogged down in lengthy background history about why a particular report or study was done. Introduce any historical information quickly, and get to the point of the report or study right away.
Use the active voice. Instead of writing, “A joint study undertaken by the EPA and the FAA concluded that…” get to the point. Write, “The EPA and FAA published a report that said…”
Watch for unnecessary adverbs and adjectives. If something is “really important,” do you really need the “really?” Watch out for words like “very” or “highly.” Do you need them, or are they just adding fluff?
Get an Outside Opinion
Experts in a topic or subject are used to dealing with large words, intricate complexities, and academic language. When you’re writing for the government, it’s a good idea to step aside and see how your writing works in the real world. Ask someone who’s not a subject expert to read your writing. Is it clear and easy to understand? Remember: Most government communication is aimed at getting a specific response from people. Does your writing achieve that goal?
As PLAIN says, “Unnecessary words waste your audience’s time. Great writing is like a conversation. Omit information that the audience doesn’t need to know. This can be difficult as a subject matter expert so it’s important to have someone look at the information from the audience’s perspective.”
Make Your Government Booklets Easy to Read
Design is just as important as content when you want to create readable documents. When you design your government booklets, make them easy to skim by breaking up the text, adding subheadings, and using graphics to explain complicated concepts.
Nobody wants to open and read a densely packed, jargon-heavy government document. Make your booklet look attractive and easy to read, and the reader is more likely to actually pick it up, get the information they need, and take the action you request.
- Limit the document to five or six sections (about two per printed page).
- Add useful headings to help people skim and scan the page.
- Use lists to break up the text and outline steps in a process.
- Avoid having lists within lists or several levels of information.
- Use tables to make complex material easier to understand.
- Write short sentences and short sections to break up information into manageable chunks.
More Tips for Readability
The design rules for government booklets are the same as those for other booklets. Use a clean, attractive design, avoid clutter, and keep it simple.
- Use ragged right margins instead of centered or justified text.
- Choose a font size that is at least 12 points.
- Select one serif font for the text and a sans serif font for headlines and subheadings.
- Don’t use more than two font types.
Get Your Government Booklets Ready for Publication
All books and documents published by the government must follow the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) Style Manual. Based in Washington, D.C., the GPO is the government’s printing company.
First established in 1894, the GPO Style Manual sets the rules for typesetting, graphics, and layout of all government publications. Other style manuals—like the Modern Language Association (MLA) and the American Psychological Association (APA) style guides—are designed primarily for writers. The GPO manual, however, is a printer’s stylebook. The manual does not prescribe a particular written style because the government recognizes that there are many acceptable writing styles. According to the GPO, it is a “standardization device designed to achieve uniform work and type treatment.”
You Can Produce Readable, Attractive Government Booklets
The principles of good government communication aren’t that different from the principles of writing for commercial catalogs, booklets, and other marketing communications. You can produce a high quality booklet by focusing on clarity, concision, and readability. When it’s time to write, design, and print your booklets, use the government’s guidelines for the best results.
We hope you found this guide to government communication useful. If you have printing needs—whether it’s for booklets, books, or business cards—call Dazzle Printing.