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Washington, DC - Baltimore Chapter Archives

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Usability SIG 2002 Thursday, 7 March 2002

Topic: "Plain Language and Usability—A Case Study" Making large documents (like government rules) easy to understand and use—on the Web and on paper. It can be done! We did it!

About the Event

Whether you work in government or in the private sector, you will find this case study fascinating. What do you do with a document that is huge, old, not organized clearly, and written in a bureaucratic style? How do you get people to agree to change it? What changes do you make to get it to be smaller, innovative, well-organized, and in plain language? And how do you know it works for the people who have to use it? Come take advantage of lessons learned in this case study.

For the past three years, a team at the Washington state Department of Labor and Industries has been rewriting workplace safety and heath rules so that they are easy to use and understand. The first set of revised rules, which went into effect last September, exemplify a new model for document writers everywhere. They are chunked into small, usable pieces. They are written in clear language—with "must" not "shall"—speaking directly to users "you must..."—with additional aids and notes to help people comply. And they went through three rounds of usability testing—two on paper and one for the web-based version. If you've ever tried to do plain language, you have to see this example and learn how they did it!

Gail Hughes, who lead the Innovations team through this effort, will talk about how they did it, where they are today, and what they plan for the future. She will describe how a key component was developing relationships with business and labor, attorneys, and safety and health professionals, who collaborated in the effort. She will talk about how the team worked with usability specialists and what they learned from usability testing of a very large document in which people need to find a specific piece of information—especially from the usability test of the rules on the web.

Many folks in the DC area face challenges similar to the one that this project dealt with—making a very large document originally written by lawyers, federal agency staff, and state agency staff into a document that all employers and employees in the state can understand and use easily. Gail will share "before" and "after" examples and will demonstrate the interactive CD version of the rewritten rule.

Don't forget your business cards for networking!

About the Speaker

Gail Hughes is a manager in the Washington state Department of Labor and Industries with more than 10 years experience in the Occupational Health and Safety Program. She presented some aspects of this project and showed examples of this innovative rule at the Society for Technical Communication annual conference in Chicago last May and will present at this Year's annual conference in Nashville. Gail has a Bachelor of Arts from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.

Background notes:
Ginny Redish, an STC Fellow, member of our STC chapter, and a nationally-known usability specialist, was a consultant on this project and will introduce our speaker. The STCWDC Usability SIG is sponsoring this event. We welcome the attendance by members of other local associations, friends, and all interested individuals.


6:30 to 7:00 p.m. Registration and food
7:00 to 8:30 p.m. Program


Light meal of sandwiches with meat and vegetarian fillings, chips, dessert, and beverages.


$10 before Monday, March 4
$15 late or walk-in


For more information on this event or to join the STCWDC Usability SIG email list, contact the Usability SIG Manager.


photo of the NRECA conference center

National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) Conference Center
4301 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington VA  22203
Phone: 703-907-5939

Map and directions to National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) Conference Center in Arlington, VA.

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Last modified Sunday, 25-Feb-2024

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