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A Plain English Reminder


Writing coaches sometimes recommend a technique described as "tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em; then tell 'em; then tell 'em what you just told 'em." In that vein, Cass Sunstein, administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, issued a terse memo on Wednesday to all department and agency heads requiring improved executive summaries in regulations.

Building on President Obama's January 2011 executive order on improving regulations and regulatory review, Sunstein, a law professor, called for the use of English plain enough to engage the general public. "Public participation cannot occur if the requirements of rules are unduly complex and if members of the public are unable to obtain a clear sense of the content of those requirements," he wrote.

He then supplied a "suggested template" for three-or-four page executive summaries that tells 'em first "the purpose of the regulatory action ... a summary of the major provisions of the regulatory action in question .... [and] the costs and benefits."

Charles S. Clark joined Government Executive in the fall of 2009. He has been on staff at The Washington Post, Congressional Quarterly, National Journal, Time-Life Books, Tax Analysts, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and the National Center on Education and the Economy. He has written or edited online news, daily news stories, long features, wire copy, magazines, books, and organizational media strategies.

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