Getting to the Point

Kristoffer Tripplaar

Would your mom understand? It’s one of the tips Energy Information Administration senior editor Colleen Blessing tells her colleagues to keep in mind when they write official agency documents. She emphasizes that clarity is a virtue, especially for federal agencies looking to maximize the reach of their publications.  

Blessing has been with the EIA since its creation in 1977, working in budget, forecasting and analyst positions throughout her career.  More recently, she has become a key figure at her agency for promoting plain language techniques. All that work paid off this spring, when the EIA won the 2013 ClearMark Award from the Center for Plain Language for its writing style guide, which outlines practices for crafting agency documents.  

“People want rules, they want to know how to do it right,” Blessing says. 

She believes editors at all agencies should adopt style guides to help eliminate common errors and promote good writing habits. At the EIA, the rollout of the writing guide included training classes and extensive advertisements in the agency’s newsletter. 

One of the common writing pitfalls Blessing noticed was broad use of complex academic jargon. She said writers must adapt their language for their audience and aim for wording that is short and straightforward. Blessing touts the benefits of usability testing—showing draft documents to unaffiliated co-workers. If they don’t understand the purpose immediately, then it’s time to reshape some of the language, she says. 

“There are steps you can take to being better,” Blessing says.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.