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Editing edict: term limits and shorter sentences

L.A. County considers software to help make brochures and internal papers easier to read.

March 06, 2007|Susannah Rosenblatt | Times Staff Writer

Apparently, county bureaucrats could use an editor.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will consider spending $209,000 today for computer software to help simplify the writing in county brochures, newsletters and internal documents.

The electronic courses, part of a "Plain Language Initiative," are intended to make county information easier to understand.

"We want to make communication more clear, efficient, understandable and effective," said Ruth Wong, executive director of the county's Quality and Productivity Commission, which conceived of the project. "We want to be able to improve the quality of our services to the public."

The program is part of a 3-year-old effort to prod county employees into translating government gobbledygook into English.

Take a recent health department memo to the board on healthcare reform:

"The biggest projected change is reducing the uninsured proportion of 71% (3% General Relief plus 57% uninsured 21 years and older plus 11% uninsured under 21) down to 15% by increasing full-scope Medi-Cal from 17% to a projected 68%, establishing a new State Coverage Pool insuring 5%, and increasing Healthy Families enrollment."

Commission members were impressed when the Consumer Affairs Department reported a 30% drop in customer calls after clarifying its public information sheets, Wong said.

"The majority of the consumers out there read at the seventh- or eighth-grade reading level," Wong said.

The commission spearheaded a successful four-month trial of the writing software last year.

The money will buy 2,000 copies of the program, which edits in the active voice, using shorter sentences and simpler words.

The goal behind the clarity push is better customer service and a reduction both in county liability and the work required to explain county services, Wong said. The commission plans to survey employees on the program's effectiveness and track changes in the number of customer calls.

The money will come from the county's information technology fund.


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