• Jonathan Oh

How to Explain Tax Refunds to 6th Graders

Updated: May 22, 2020

I left Governor Charlie Baker’s Office to assist the website migration of

In February 2017, my internship supervisor, Nick Rizzo, at Governor’s Office suggested me to have a discussion with Holly St. Clair at then-MassIT. I enjoyed my time working for Governor Charlie Baker, but Nick believed I should try something different. MassIT were seeking for “ambitious, resourceful, and tech-savvy” students to assist the migration of to the new system. I had a brief discussion with Holly and Nick regarding the internship. It didn’t take me long to apply. It was a very competitive internship opportunity, but thankfully, I got an offer.

“Ambitious, resourceful, and tech-savvy” -MassIT

I was incredibly happy when I got an offer. I volunteered to work at Executive Office for Administration & Finance (ANF), but the management at MassIT thought I would be a better fit for the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR). I made it very clear that I wanted ANF; however, after a long great conversation, MassIT persuaded me. After a week of intense yet great training, I headed over to assist the website migration of DOR.

I learned how to write about tax, through the point of view of not-a-tax-expert.

The three most significant challenges that DOR website was facing:

  1. Taxation is an incredibly complicated, sensitive topic

  2. Tax Experts at DOR understood taxation but couldn’t understand the fact that ordinary people don’t understand taxation.

  3. A lot of outdated information was still on the website.

At the Executive Office of Technology Services and Security (EOTSS), previously MassIT, I learned how to write in a user-friendly and web-friendly style.

  • Always start by thinking about what users need

  • Use plain language and aim for a grade 6 reading level.

  • Give people what they want. Write content focused on user needs.

However, it is much easier said than done. It took a countless amount of hours and efforts for the team to come up with the easiest yet effective way to communicate with constituents. Even, in theory, explaining tax materials to a 6th grader sounds challenging. Based on the guidance from EOTSS, the direction of content editing were:

  • Cutting unnecessary details that ordinary users would not care

  • Separating all the legal-related details from web-pages and putting them into legal documents

  • Providing visual action items that people can navigate to get what they want right away

"Always start by thinking about what users need"

The project started in June 2017 and took until October 2018. I touched several thousands of web pages for DOR. It was a tremendous experience to practice customer obsession and optimization in such a large scale project. It's very odd to sometimes notice that people are reading the website content that you have put your blood, sweat, and tears.

The lessons and knowledge I gained from this project still play a very import role in my career. Most importantly, I learned the ultimate satisfaction of civil service. It doesn’t matter how much I know; it matters how I share, communicate, and server.

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