Ethical Autonomy as a Characteristic of Effective Government Writing

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One way to make government writing more effective is to improve its surface features: grammar, syntax, diction, and style. In this essay I argue for an additional way: make it more ethical. I focus on four principles: create a bond with the readers, empower the readers, tell the truth, and publicize the writing effectively. I illustrate these principles by referring to the 2005 Annual Report to Parliament on the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, submitted by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Although this report was written by a watchdog agency and therefore is atypical of much government writing, it does suggest attitudes and strategies that can be applied to many kinds of government writing.

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