Civic Education & State Matters

Problem: How do you make taxes interesting and easy to understand?

At State Matters I’ve been in charge of researching, writing, and editing many facets of their content. As tax day approached, we knew that we wanted to have a clear, thorough, and engaging explainer for readers to rely on. But taxes are notoriously toxic to attention spans. Where do you start?

Analysis: Taxes in Illinois are both confusing and controversial

Mention taxes to most Illinoisans and their eyes will likely turn bloodshot instantly. Tax structures and taxing districts are not just generally confusing but are especially so in Illinois where the states boasts more taxing districts than any other in the nation. In addition, our flat and regressive income tax and our disparate property taxes make Illinois particularly unique. I needed to break each component into a manageable length and idea.

Solution: Be clear, concise, and organized

For the purposes of this article, I couldn’t rely on much magic to enchant readers. Instead, I faced the challenged head on, in a friendly and inviting fashion. Below I’ve reproduced the article in full: 

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A strong opening quip eases readers into the content (humor always helps). Note that certain stylistic elements were added without my editorial approval (like the use of “folks”).
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This is “problem language.” I’m here acknowledging that this is a difficult topic to understand, and one which does not have a clearly defined answer. Only points of view.
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Here I was challenged with clearly and succinctly summarizing the difference between a graduated and flat income tax. Good relevant links are essential for two reasons: 1.) they support your claims, prove your value, and build trust with readers. 2.) Good relevant links also help boost your webpage’s SEO credibility with Google Analytics.
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Note that while I researched the data and wrote the copy, I didn’t design these wonderful charts.
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Again, signposting is key. I wanted to make sure to tell people where they are going and what to pay attention for in the future.
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Telling a good story about property taxes means finding the most enlightening statistic. In this case, Illinois spends less than any other state in the nation on primary schools. That, in and of itself, should reveal to readers why education is so idiosyncratic in Illinois.
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Property taxes and the taxing districts are indeed confusing. Because they are implemented in such varying ways, I had to be broad with my description here. Telling people to show up to their local government in person is one of the main missions of State Matters.
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Examples are always critical when breaking down information, same with type hierarchies, paragraph breaks, and attention-grabbing pictures.
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