We received a bill at home the other day that we couldn't comprehend. It was for propane, which we use to heat the house - we find it's just slightly cheaper than burning dollar bills - and it included two pages. One page essentially said: Here's a number, but don't pay it; we just thought you would find it interesting. The other suggested paying an amount that seemed about right, but only if we had ordered a replacement engine for an F-16 fighter jet.

My wife called the company that sent the bill. The person who answered the phone couldn't figure it out either.

I think a business should understand what it's sending out before sending it out.

When you contact a customer with a bill, a business offer or a survey, you should aim for a writing style roughly halfway between "Finnegans Wake" and a stop sign. If you miss the mark, the recipient knows exactly what to do. He or she has thrown things away many times before.

Unfortunately, there's no single way to control this problem in business. It's not like government, where Iowa's own Rep. Bruce Braley sponsored HR 946, the Plain Writing Act of 2010.

According to a press release earlier this spring from Braley's office, "the act will require the federal government to write documents, such as tax returns, federal college aid applications, and Veterans Administration forms, in simple, easy-to-understand language. ... 'There is no reason why the federal government can't write these forms and other public documents in a way we can all understand,' Braley said."

Sounds good.

Braley's website offers some examples, including the boiling down of a 111-word paragraph in a Medicare fraud letter into: "We will take two steps to look at this matter: We will find out if it was an error or fraud. We will let you know the result."

His bill flew through the House of Representatives, but the Senate has yet to vote on it. No guarantees there; once you take highfalutin language away from U.S. senators, all they have left are nice suits (not counting Chuck Grassley) and good parking places.

Even if it passes the Senate, a long road to comprehensibility lies ahead. It would take decades to simplify the U.S. legal code, and by then it probably would have to be translated into Chinese to suit our new masters.

Also, Braley isn't the first government official to take a shot at this. When Al Gore was the vice president, he presented the "No Gobbledygook Award" every month for a while. Unfortunately, while he was thinking about language, George W. Bush was thinking about Florida.

But that's government. In the business world, you can at least make a dent in obtuse writing all on your own.

When sending any sort of information to your customers, try to write the way you talk, only with fewer anecdotes about your medical procedures.

If you hate to write, find someone else to do it. But eliminate everyone who thinks of writing as a noble mixture of art and emotion. You know, former English majors. I should be crafting a culturally significant novel in an apartment on the Upper West Side, they're thinking, instead of the instructions for assembling a gas grill.

Don't fall for the temptation to use jumbled sentences as a defense tactic. Some people figure that the more complicated you make your writing, the easier it is to blame the reader when subpoenas are being issued.

I think it was the Internal Revenue Service that once said: "Your deposit schedule depends on the total tax liability you reported on Form 941 during the previous four-quarter lookback period (July 1 of the second calendar year through June 30 of last year). See section 11 of Pub. 15 (Circular E) for details. If you filed Form 944 in either 2008 or 2009, your lookback period is the 2008 calendar year."

In other words: See you in court.