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Building Innovation is a collection of stories by 90.5 fm WESA reporters about the Pittsburgh region focusing on efficient government operation, infrastructure and transportation, innovative practices, energy and environment and neighborhoods and community.

New Rudiak Bill Sets 'Plain Language Guidelines' To Streamline City Documents

With six years under her belt, Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak said she’s tired of noticing confusing city forms and documents.

Rudiak introduced a bill Tuesday which would require city employees to make every document they create easier to read and understand, adhering to plain language guidelines.

Rudiak said they can’t have the grammar police standing behind every single city employee as they create every publicly accessible form, however.

“This legislation does include a set of best practices and we’re hoping that we can work with a local university to create some learning materials to be provided to all new and existing city employees," she said, "to be able to essentially build that into the culture of the city.”

Rudiak said sometimes the forms confuse even her.

“I joke that you have to have a college degree or master’s degree to fill them out, and even if you do they’re really hard to understand,” she said. “Some of our forms are in (a) PDF form that you need to print out and send back. It’s not 21st century government, and that’s what the intention of this bill is -- to bring the city into the 21st century.”

The legislation would ask all public notices, forms and the city's website to follow clear and concise guidelines, including organizing material in a logical order, designing documents with headings and bulleted lists and features that make information and photos easy to find.

"So basically, making information more easily accessible ... and understandable to the public,” she said.

The standard makes sure all writing is at an eighth-grade level, active voice is used, sentences and paragraphs are short and that forms can be submitted online.

Rudiak’s bill also calls for the creation of a “Graphic Standard,” which would outline a kind of organizational identity system for official logos and seals, fonts, color codes and design templates for different document types. This would affect the formats of web sites, business cards and even e-mail signatures.

Rudiak said that she and her office took some language from the federal government’s Plain Writing Act of 2010, which requires agencies use plain language in their written communications with the public.

In the five years following the act, Rudiak said she’s not aware of any such changes taking shape in Pittsburgh. A timeline for potential policy enactment is still unknown, she said. A "plain language team" would decide costs once the bill is passed.