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A woman is confused as she reads a document

The goal of the nonprofit Center for Plain Language is to get government and businesses to communicate more clearly to citizens and customers. Take a look at some examples of how complicated documents can get. And offer your own examples of how language can get unnecessarily confusing by commenting below.


Ten examples of phrases simplified

When the business says... They really mean...
Economically marginalized Poor
Signage indicators Signs
Negative economic growth Recession
Interruption of economic expansion Recession
Meaningful statistical downturn Recession
Render non-viable Kill
Accidental delivery of ordinance Bombing your own troops
In the event of If
On the grounds that Because
We obtain information that causes us to believe that We find that

Examples of complicated and plain language

1. Medicare letter:
"Investigators at the contractor will review the facts in your case and decide the most appropriate course of action. The first step taken with most Medicare health care providers is to reeducate them about Medicare regulations and policies. If the practice continues, the contractor may conduct special audits of the providers medical records. Often, the contractor recovers overpayments to health care providers this way. If there is sufficient evidence to show that the provider is consistently violating Medicare policies, the contractor will document the violations and ask the Office of the Inspector General to prosecute the case. This can lead to expulsion from the Medicare program, civil monetary penalties, and imprisonment."

Translation: We will take two steps to look at this matter: We will find out if it was an error or fraud. We will let you know the result.

2. National Park Service regulation:
"When the process of freeing a stuck vehicle that has been stuck results in ruts or holes, the operator will fill the rut or hole created by such activity before removing the vehicle from the immediate area."

Translation: If you make a hole while freeing a stuck vehicle, you must fill the hole before you drive away.

3. Arizona Department of Revenue letter:
"The Arizona Department of Revenue has received your Transaction Privilege Tax (TPT) license/withholding registration application form and found that insufficient information has been provided to allow us to process your request."

Translation: We cannot process your license application because required information is missing.

4. State Department Notice at foreign embassies: "In order to ensure everyone's safety and to ensure that security screening does not delay entrance in to the Consulate and planned interviews, no electronic devices, including cell telephones, may be brought into the Embassy or Consulate. Large backpacks, suitcases and glass containers are also not permitted. Security personnel will not store items for applicants and will confiscate all weapons. We therefore suggest that all such items be left at home, in a locked car, or with a friend or relative who remains outside the premises.

Documents relevant to the visa and/or passport application are the only items that we encourage applicants to bring with them.

Your cooperation will help to ensure everyone's safety and will help us to ensure that we are able to interview you as quickly as possible."

Translation: To ensure everyone's security and speed processing, you may not bring the following items into the consulate:

• electronic devices, including cell telephones

• large backpacks and suitcases

• glass containers

• weapons of any type

Staff at the gate cannot store any items for you.

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