January 22, 2007 by jimstogdill
A colleague forwarded me this Federal Biz Ops announcement recently and I couldn’t help but wonder (again) how much it costs the Department of Defense to rely on such opaque communications. If communication is intended to convey meaning from producer to audience is this the best way to do it?
This massive glom of text is nearly impossible to decipher. The absence of white space and the lack of paragraph structure make readability so poor as to be funny.
Unfortunately, these announcements are often written in such broad language that it is very difficult to understand what the author is looking to buy even if you can get past the readability issue. At the end of the day you try to decipher key words and then you make some phone calls if there was enough there to pique your interest. The obfuscation in these things makes it hard to do much more. So I wonder, are the people that write these things getting what they want from them (assuming they actually want their audience to understand what they are asking for).
A few jobs ago I hired a company in NYC called Siegel+Gale that at the time had made a name for its “Simplification” practice. They redesigned complex documents like the 1040EZ form or Merrill Lynch statements to make them much more understandable and usable. It would be a great experiment to see what they could do with Fed Biz Op announcements; not just with readability, but also with organization, distribution, and etc.
I would love to see Fed Biz Ops and other DoD-related organizations take a page from the simplification book and orient this stuff for readability. These things aren’t being sent as USTMF and they aren’t in XML so I really don’t see why they have to look like this. Make them readable and understandable for the intended audience.
In the meantime, I wonder how indexing this stuff and making tag clouds would help. If I’m going to have to rely on keyword analysis to understand them, we might as well try to make the keywords obvious, visible, and weighted.