Create a fine reading experience for your readers by transforming your sentences into plain language | Photo by Delightin Dee on Unsplash
Melissa Wardell shares her thoughts on the award for Best Plain Language Sentence Transformation. Melissa is one of the judges for the category in 2022.
Communication is all about words. Words on their own are limited in how much meaning they can convey to the audience. How do we bring them together to carry more complex thoughts and ideas? By writing sentences, of course!
When words are combined into a well-written sentence, they inform and influence the reader. Sentences provide a stage for words to shine. That’s why the award for Best Plain Language Sentence Transformation is so revealing. The best sentence transformations show us what is possible at an easily digestible level.
Offer poorly written sentences a second chance
Not all sentences achieve their intended goal at first. But even clunky sentences deserve a second chance!
The Best Plain Language Sentence Transformation category offers you the opportunity to take the ingredients of a complex or clumsy sentence and remix them into something beautiful. To create a fine reading experience from what was a flop.
Have a look at an example of how to transform a sentence here (video by sponsor Write Limited)
Shine the light on your transformed sentences
The Best Plain Language Sentence Transformation recognises the best plain language rewrite of an ‘unplain’ sentence by a New Zealand or Australian organisation. Entries are judged against internationally accepted principles of plain language.
The Best Sentences know how to impress the judges in this category. In 2021, one of the judges said:
The original statement shows how authorities sometimes, without meaning to, create a sense of ‘us and them’. The new version’s writer saw potential to relate to readers as their equals. The rewritten sentences are short and use many everyday words. They apply several plain English principles.
What you need to know
You can enter up to three separate sentence transformations for one entry fee.
Judges will consider each sentence separately, so you have up to three chances of winning in this category!
Enter the Best Plain Language Sentence Transformation by 31 July
Meet 2021 winners Auckland Council
Meet the judges for the 2022 Plain Language Awards
Posted In: 2022 Plain Language Awards, Best Plain Language Sentence Transformation
Best Sentence, Best Sentence Transformation, clarity, clear communication, transformation
A winning entry is in the bag if you meet the plain language criteria | Photo by Phu Dinh on Unsplash
Here’s some inside information for people thinking of entering the 2022 Plain Language Awards!
However, it’s no secret! The thing the judges are looking for and what excites them the most is to see a document or website that meets the plain language criteria to a very high standard.
How the judging process works
When they review the entries, the judges use Submittable — the same platform entrants use to submit their entries. Submittable enables the judges to record their feedback and rate the entries.
Read more about the judging process
Meet the judges for the 2022 Awards
Here are the broad ratings they use, starting from the highest rating and moving to the lowest.
Excellent — Thought-provoking and inspiring
Plain language principles are applied consistently and well. We discovered new ideas and strategies from this entry that we want to use in our own work. We want to tell other people about this entry and think readers and users will tell other people too. We can see the positive impact of this entry for the organisation or its customers.
Very good — Solid use of principles
Applies principles consistently and effectively. Changes we might make would fall into the polishing or
nit-picking category. They are unlikely to change the impact of the entry overall. This is a very strong example, but it didn’t inspire us to say ‘Wow! Look at this one!’
Good — Uses some plain language principles but misses subtleties
Mainly uses plain language principles but misses subtleties and opportunities. The entry may get the point across, but more focus on plain language principles could measurably improve it .
Fair — Inconsistent use of plain language principles
Uses some plain language principles, but misses other critical ones. May misapply or over-apply strategies. The authors would benefit from training and mentoring.
Poor — Poor or no use of principles
The poor use of plain language principles in this entry interferes with readers’ ability to understand and act on the information. If testing was done, it seems to have had little or no impact on the final version.
Read about the plain language criteria
Read about the user-testing criteria
Get your copy of the Write Plain Language Standard
More Trophy Tips
You’ll get lots of tips for bringing home a trophy if you read the judges comments and the media releases of previous winners and finalists.
Meet the 2021 winners and finalists
And read one of our earlier blog posts with some useful summaries here:
Trophy Tips: In the words of our judges
Posted In: 2022 Plain Language Awards, Judges, Trophy Tips
2022 Awards, impact, judging criteria, plain language standard, Trophy Tips, user-testing, Write Plain Language Standard
Reach for the stars by transforming your legal documents using plain language | Photo by Graham Holtshausen on Unsplash
Legal writing doesn’t need to be legalese. The judges for the Best Plain Language Legal Document are looking for excellent examples of legal writing that push the boundaries of what we might think legal writing typically looks like.
No longer stuffy or wordy, filled with passive voice or obfuscation, today’s legal writing is clear and concise yet still legally rigorous.
The judges of last year’s winning document said:
The document feels friendly and manageable. It skilfully employs all the right plain English and clear design techniques. Its language and layout make understanding it as easy as it can be without losing its legal rigour.
And they commented on the design of the document too:
Plenty of white space with tables, diagrams and worked examples used to help convey information. Good consistency in heading size and use of colour.
The document has a good tone. It’s friendly but professional — and that’s not always an easy balance to strike.
Clarify the complex
Plain legal documents do a great job of clarifying the complex so that you don’t need a law degree to understand the content.
The judges were also impressed by one of last year’s finalists:
The language used is mainly plain and great care has gone into making sure complex rules and processes are explained as clearly as possible.
Of another finalist they said:
This report is very easy to navigate, particularly considering the complexity of the information presented. It tackles a complex (and potentially eye-glazing) subject very well. It’s a visually appealing document with great use of colour and graphics. The structure works well with a logical flow and the essential, need-to-know information is clearly presented. An excellent job all round.
Enter your plain legal document
The judges are looking for the best example of a legal document written in plain language. You can enter a document used in legal contexts or for legal purposes. Examples include contracts, agreements, terms and conditions, notices, deeds, judgments, legal opinions, and so on. The document may cover a legally enforceable Act, process, obligation, or right.
Here are the judging criteria. And remember the judges will also be keen to know if you’ve evaluated your document in any way, such as carrying out document user-testing.
The purpose of the document is clear at the start, and the content supports the purpose of the document.
The structure is clear and logical to the reader.
Headings and main messages
The headings are informative and clearly signpost the main messages.
The paragraphs are mostly short and focused on one topic.
The sentences are mostly short and straightforward.
The words are precise and familiar. Technical terms are explained.
Layout and presentation
The layout helps the reader absorb the messages quickly and easily.
Check out the criteria for the Best Plain Language Legal Document
Meet the 2021 winners and finalists for the Best Plain Language Legal Document
Meet the judges for the Plain Language Awards
Posted In: 2022 Plain Language Awards, Communications, Legal writing
agreements, Best Legal Document, Best Plain Language Legal Document, clear writing, contracts, Legal writing, policies, terms and conditions
Champion organisations and individuals are leaders in clear communication | Photo by Occasionalclimber on excio.io
Lynda Harris, Awards founder and CE of our principal sponsor Write, is a champion of champion plain language organisations. Read on to find out why.
I’ve always been proud to reserve sponsorship of the award for Plain Language Champion — Best Organisation for Write Limited. You’d have to wrestle it from me! That’s because the Champion award embodies all the qualities of people and organisations that have worked hard to empower others through plain language.
‘Champion’ means being ‘the winner’ — the best, the highest achiever, the standard-setter, the model for others to follow. And we applaud that! But also it includes the concept of being an advocate — or a champion for a cause.
Plain language champions believe in the power of clarity and are proud to share their ideals with the world.
Leadership sets a champion organisation apart
An organisation that wins the Plain Language Champion — Best Organisation category will have many characteristics that set it apart from others. A champion organisation will be able to show evidence of deliberately choosing to use plain language throughout the whole organisation. To do this successfully, they will have to make their expectations clear from the top.
For example, the chief executive and senior leaders of a champion organisation will talk about the ‘why’ of plain language. They and their management teams will encourage and support others to adopt a clear style of communicating both internally and externally. They won’t hold back from promoting the connection between clarity and their organisation’s values.
They will understand and be able to articulate the value that clear communication has for their organisation, their brand, their customers, and ultimately society as a whole.
Champion organisations celebrate the benefits of clear communication — things like greater job satisfaction and improved workplace culture, along with better customer retention, greater trust, and a reputation for doing good work.
Be inspired by the 2021 Best Organisation
The judges look for evidence in a winning champion portfolio
Evidence to back up your claims is essential to a winning portfolio! The judges look for evidence of a wholehearted commitment to making plain language the expected standard across the whole organisation. As a bonus, evidence of impact in the community will be compelling too.
In a plain language organisation, you’ll be able to see evidence that the CEO and senior team have stated their strong expectation for a culture of plain language. That means things like:
- everyone considers their reader in every piece of communication, both internal and external
- everyone knows what good looks like and writes to an agreed plain language standard
- senior people and other advocates model plain language practice
- helpful resources including plain language champions are readily available to help writers.
In other words, plain language is woven into the fabric of the organisation so that:
- documents are consistently clear and reader-friendly
- feedback and measurable results demonstrate the effect of plain language.
Individuals and teams are honoured too
The Awards also celebrate individuals and teams that have achieved great things with a plain language project. The Plain Language Champion — Best Individual or Team award honours the people who work hard to make plain language a reality in their organisation.
The award is open to individuals or teams who have significantly contributed to a plain language initiative in any New Zealand or Australian organisation. For example, you might have:
- convinced senior management or others of influence to support a plain language initiative
- led a plain language project — large or small
- run training or team meetings on plain language topics
- helped other writers to produce clear, reader-friendly content
- written newsletter articles or intranet resources about plain language topics
- rewritten template letters into plain language.
Feel free to nominate yourself, your team, or someone else you work with.
Meet the 2021 Best Individual or Team
Write’s sponsorship celebrates plain language organisations
Lynda explains what’s behind Write sponsoring the Champion category.
You can see that everything about this category is dear to Write’s heart. Our purpose is to use words for the power of good by helping organisations and individuals get more value and impact from business communication. Ultimately we help build a fairer, more respectful society.
We see the Plain Language Awards as another way we can showcase the benefits of clear communication. Sponsoring the Champion category is one way we can celebrate other organisations doing their bit towards a society where people are able to participate more easily.
Read about Write and its B Corp status
Get your entry portfolio ready!
Entries must be in by 31 July and the Champion categories need a portfolio of evidence — so don’t delay!
Read the entry criteria and prizes for the Champion categories
See other clues that your organisation is a champion of clear communication
Posted In: 2022 Plain Language Awards, Plain Language Champion
Best Individual or Team, Best Organisation, Champion, clear communication, impact, Lynda Harris, sponsors
See your documents unfurl when you apply plain language principles | Photo by Lorraine Neill on excio.io
We asked Fraser Buffini, one of our new international judges for the 2022 Awards, to tell us a story of transformation. Appropriately enough, Fraser is one of the panel members judging the award for Best Plain Language Turnaround.
Fraser’s career began in the diplomatic world writing the very content he would later want to transform. His company is called The Clear Writing Lab and is based in Grenoble, France. It specialises in transforming content into clear English and training others to do the same.
In this article, Fraser explains how he uses George Orwell’s six rules for political writers to transform difficult content. He walks us through the thought process behind the way he edited a piece of legal writing and transformed it into something readable.
In my former life, I was an aide to the deputy head of a huge mission in the Balkans tasked with fixing the broken rule-of-law system after it imploded during a war. While it was a technical mission on paper, we were relentlessly dragged into politics.
Most of the time my job was to fix reports.
Now, in political writing truth is often kept just out of reach. That’s simply because of the way politics works: it’s about vying for narratives and pushing your agenda. If you do not have neutral anchoring principles, you absolutely will end up keeping the truth just out of reach of the reader. Not deliberately of course.
So where do you get these anchoring principles from? Well, there’s one place I’ll always go to that can be relied on no matter the context, no matter the content. In a 1946 essay, George Orwell wrote six rules for political writers that no one has bettered to this day. They are pure in their simplicity, easy to remember, and have genuinely stood the test of time. And they can be used in any writing, not just in politics. That’s why almost every newspaper style guide today is basically an elaboration on them:
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Fraser Buffini transforms unclear text into readable content | Photo by The Clear Writing Lab
Let me show you how I used these brilliant rules to rework a particularly bad piece of legal writing for a political report. This report had to be as neutral as possible. Here is the hot mess:
‘As abovementioned it was clear that the prosecutor was, inter alia, discontented with the deal that was hammered out henceforth allowing the defendant to walk free.’
Even before the Netflix logo has double-thumped the screen, let’s just delete the worthless bit of metadiscourse that is ‘abovementioned’ (Rule 3 – cut words if you can).
Ok, let’s start. ‘It was clear that–’ … hold on, clear how? Did something happen that made this clear? Did the prosecutor say something? Here is Rule 4 at play: that pesky passive voice throwing sand in our eyes.
Let’s send an email to the drafter of this report and ask them why they wrote ‘it was clear’. The drafter writes back later that day saying ‘well, she gave a statement to the press after the court hearing saying she was angry the deal went through’. That’s pretty useful information that could’ve been put in. Getting rid of the passive voice often helps us get closer to the truth.
Right, now we have basically deleted 20% of the sentence and already found out useful new information. The only text we have cleared so far is ‘the prosecutor was…’.
The next phrase, ‘inter alia’, breaks Rule 5 as it’s a foreign phrase and jargon (it means ‘among other things’). I get the feeling the drafter is ‘hedging’ here: I’m guessing they thought everything the prosecutor said was important and by focusing on one thing, it would reduce the importance of the other things. Let’s drop the drafter a quick email and find out what other things the prosecutor said. ‘Actually she just listed a bunch of legal clauses’, comes the response.
No new or useful information then. The drafter was definitely hedging. Let’s not get our limbs tangled up in the false safety net of comprehensiveness. Delete.
The next word is ‘discontented’. Rule 2 alert! It’s a long word where I think the shorter ‘unhappy’ will do.
Up next is ‘hammered out’. Rule 1 jumping into action here: this is a metaphor we see written all the time in print. Rule 1 is fantastic, since it makes us decide whether we create a fresh, new metaphor or we just remove it and replace it with something plain. I think for this report it’s better to say the deal was ‘reached’, than to come up with a fresh metaphor. However, we’re now in the pickle of the passive voice again (Rule 4): who reached the deal?
We call the drafter on their mobile to clarify: ‘oh it was a bail agreement the defendant’s lawyer made with the judge’. That sneaky passive voice hiding information from us again (Rule 4).
Next up is ‘henceforth’. I’m going to invoke Rule 3 here and declare that this word can, and should, be cut.
And finally, let’s have a look at that last phrase ‘walk free’. It sounds a bit like Rule 1 needs to be declared: I smell hints of a metaphor that we’re used to seeing in print. Let’s just go with the simple ‘released’ instead.
Our sentence now reads:
In a press conference after the hearing, the prosecutor said she was unhappy with the bail agreement the judge and the defendant’s lawyer reached, which allowed the defendant’s release.
Compare it with the old sentence:
As abovementioned it was clear that the prosecutor was, inter alia, discontented with the deal that was hammered out henceforth allowing the defendant to walk free.
The transformed version is much clearer, conveys more information and feels less wishy-washy. Somehow it feels more … honest.
As Fraser sums up:
Having a few guiding principles to fall back on can make a big difference. Using Orwell’s rules have been my go-to principles throughout my working life. Just by applying them, we have managed to unearth crucial new information, remove redundant and unclear phrases, improve clarity, and bring forth more truth.
There is a world of clear writing and plain language advice out there. But with Orwell’s rules, no one has given so much with so little.
Surprise and delight our judging panel with your best transformations
We want to see how you’ve transformed your content. Perhaps you’ve had feedback from readers who wanted changes. Or you decided to update your content into something more usable. Show us how you applied George Orwell’s writing rules or other plain language principles. Get your entries in before 31 July!
Read the criteria for the Best Plain Language Turnaround category
Read our 2021 blog ‘Anatomy of a plain English turnaround’
And remember, it only takes a sentence!
Read the criteria for the Best Plain Language Sentence Transformation
Read our 2021 blog ‘Transforming hungry caterpillars into beautiful butterflies’
Posted In: 2022 Plain Language Awards, Plain Language Turnaround
Best Plain Language Sentence Transformation, Best Plain Language Turnaround, clear communication, clear thinking, Fraser Buffini, Legal writing, Turnaround
Technical communicators keep the wheels turning with clear communications. Now’s your time to shine! | Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash
Accomplished technical communicators are often the unsung heroes of their organisation. They produce the content that makes the wheels go round — sometimes literally!
If this feels like a familiar scenario, or you’ve produced technical information you’re particularly proud of, now is your time to shine. Enter the award for Best Plain Language Technical Communicator — the judges are very keen to hear from you!
As Louise Eades, a previous category winner, said on winning Best Technical Communicator:
Technical communication is a job where less is more and simpler is better. If your reader has to search the internet for the meaning of a word, or read a sentence three times to understand it, you’ve failed.
Technical communication is finally getting the recognition it deserves as a skilled and valuable profession. Anyone can write, but not everyone can clearly communicate technical stuff to the people who need to understand it.
With that approach in mind, here are some ideas to get you thinking about what you could include in your entry.
Tell us about your clear procedures
Tell us about the new procedures you’ve written, so that essential work can continue. Those procedures and operating instructions are so clear and easy to use that your colleagues can carry out complex activities without missing a beat.
Tell us about your user-friendly online help
Tell us about the chunks of online help files you’ve rewritten, so that customers can find answers to their questions easily. You’ve created them using clear structure and language to support your whole customer base, with its diverse language and educational backgrounds.
Tell us about your new technical specifications
Tell us about the new technical specifications or instructions that you’ve developed in double-quick time for your company’s new products. Maybe you wrote them while grappling with MadCap Flare or FrameMaker, and collaborating in Confluence too!
Show us what you’ve done as an expert technical communicator
The judges are keen to see a representative portfolio of your work, so you can send in up to five samples. Tell us the context of your documents, including their purpose and audience. The judges also recommend you showcase your plain language skills by including samples that highlight excellent structure and layout.
Read more about the Best Plain Language Technical Communicator category
Need more encouragement to enter?
Check out this fun video!
TechCommNZ’s 10 reasons to enter the 2022 Plain Language Awards
Meet the category sponsor for Best Plain Language Technical Communicator
We’re delighted that once again our long-term sponsor TechCommNZ is getting behind this award. Thanks TechCommNZ — we couldn’t do it without you!
Find out more about TechCommNZ
Posted In: 2022 Plain Language Awards, Best Technical Communicator
Best Plain Language Technical Communicator, Best Technical Communicator, Industry awards, technical communicator, technical writing
Shine the light on clear communication | Photo of colourful lights and reflections on Whairepo Lagoon by Ann Kilpatrick on Excio
Write and its sister company WriteMark are the founding sponsors of the Plain Language Awards — raising the bar for clear communication in New Zealand, and now in Australia too. Both Write and WriteMark are continuing their support for the Awards in 2022 as major sponsors.
Write chief executive Lynda Harris sees sponsorship of the Plain Language Awards as another way Write can champion the positive impact that clear communication has on people’s lives.
We support the Awards because they celebrate clear communication in business and government organisations. Everyone who enters the Awards, or who nominates a People’s Choice entry, is doing their bit to make the world a clearer place.
We believe that everyone in the community has the ethical and democratic right to understand communications that are central to their lives — government forms, legal documents, financial applications and agreements, terms and conditions, and more.
Ultimately, we want people to be able to understand important information. When that information is as clear as possible, they can make decisions more easily — especially those related to health, financial, and legal matters.
Let’s get the plain language message out
The Awards celebrate the communicators who create clear, accessible documents and websites. And in doing so, the Awards help to share the message that we all benefit from plain language in everyday life.
Plain language enables us all to participate more easily in society and make important legal, financial, and health decisions based on better understanding. That’s got to be a good outcome!
Check out the Awards categories for 2022
Are you willing to join the call for clear communication?
A plain language approach to communication means truly committing to putting customers and colleagues first — a culture-changing shift in how business and society operate. Our sponsors are joining the call for fairer, clearer communication from all sectors.
If you’re interested in supporting the 2022 Plain Language Awards, please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you and have you on our team.
Meet our sponsors
Become a sponsor
Posted In: 2022 Plain Language Awards, Sponsors
clear communication, People's Choice Awards, Plain Language Awards, sponsors, Sponsorship, Write Limited, WriteMark
It's time for clarity! Tell your friends and colleagues that the Awards are open for entries | Photo of tūī by Mark Trufitt on Excio
It’s time for clarity! Entries are now open for this year’s Awards in all categories. As we’re sure you’ll agree, the Awards have a category for almost every type of business writing.
From macro to micro
Perhaps your plain language project has been running for a while and you’re now ready to enter the premier Plain Language Champion — Best Organisation category. Or you might be starting small by entering the Best Plain Language Sentence Transformation.
From jargon-filled to easy-to-read
Have you turned a document or website from gobblydegook into something clear, concise, and jargon-free? Produced a shining example of anti-legalese that your clients love? Or dazzled your stakeholders with an awesome annual report that ticks all the reporting boxes?
Our judges are looking forward to seeing outstanding examples that defy the stereotypes of legal writing and business jargon.
From individual to team contributors
Technical communicators — get ready to send us your portfolios! Plain language project teams and individuals — prepare your submissions! We’re keen to celebrate your work whether it’s behind the scenes or front and centre in your organisation or sector.
From transformation to celebration
Another category the judges always love is the Best Plain Language Turnaround — especially if the turnaround was inspired by a Brainstrain nomination in previous years. And members of the public are welcome to nominate examples of the Best Communication or the Worst Brainstrain for the People’s Choice Awards.
You’ll find lots of inspiration in the statements from our 2021 winners and finalists. And plenty more on the gallery page where we showcase video stories of plain language initiatives.
Meet our 2021 winners and finalists
Get inspired by the stories in our gallery and share your own story
Entries are open until 31 July, so start planning your entry now. Once again we welcome entries from both New Zealand and Australian-based organisations.
Choose your categories for the 2022 Awards
Get involved with the People’s Choice Awards
Read about the benefits of sponsoring the Awards
Sign up to our newsletter for the latest news
Posted In: 2022 Plain Language Awards, Communications, Story theme
Best Legal Document, Best Organisation, Best Plain Language Annual Report, Best Plain Language Document, Best Plain Language Legal Document, Best Plain Language Turnaround, Best Plain Language Website, Best Sentence Transformation, Best Technical Communicator, Brainstrain, jargon-busting, People's Choice, Plain Language Champion, transformation
The Plain Language Bill starts its journey | Photo by Sulthan Auliya on Unsplash
The Plain Language Bill is being considered by the New Zealand Parliament. If the bill becomes law, it will require all government agencies to communicate in plain language.
Below you can read the submission made by the WriteMark Plain English Awards Trust to the Governance and Administration Select Committee.
The WriteMark Plain English Awards Trust advocates for the use of plain language in all documents that affect our ability to participate and function well in New Zealand society.
The Trust achieves its purpose primarily through running the annual Plain English Awards, which aim to:
- improve government and business documents so that all New Zealanders can understand them raise public awareness of the need for, and benefits of, plain language
- create a public preference for organisations that choose to communicate in plain language.
What is plain language?
Plain language (sometimes called plain English in New Zealand) is a style of writing in which the language, structure, and presentation of a document all work together to help the reader. A document written in plain language is easy to read, understand, and act on after just one reading.
30 March 2022
Governance and Administration Select Committee
Submission in support of the Plain Language Bill
The WriteMark Plain English Awards Trust strongly supports the Plain Language Bill. This submission sets out our reasons and offers some suggestions to make the bill even more useful.
Why we support the bill
Over the past 17 years our interactions with public and private sector organisations, and members of the public, have given us an insider’s view of how language quality affects organisational outcomes and citizens’ lives. We can say unequivocally, that much public sector writing falls far short of the label ‘plain’. Many documents are unclear, lack a human-centred approach, and do not fulfil their purpose.
So, we strongly support any initiative to improve the quality of public-facing government documents. Our view is coloured by both the negatives mentioned below from the People’s Choice category and, conversely, by surveys that capture the real-world impact of excellent documents.
The public speak — evidence of harm and frustration from poorly written documents
In particular, documents and websites nominated in the People’s Choice Worst Brainstrain category emphasise the degree of harm and frustration, not to mention the waste of time and resources, created by poor writing.
A high proportion of the nominations in the Brainstrain category are complaints and concerns about communications from government agencies. They document the damage, frustration, and stress caused by unclear or misleading information, forms, and policies.
Just a few examples of government agencies ‘dobbed in’ by the public include the Reserve Bank, Inland Revenue, Commerce Commission, Ministry of Education, Department of Internal Affairs, Parliamentary Service, Earthquake Commission, and the (then State) Services Commission.
In many of the Brainstrain category nominations, we hear the real-world stories from people who were not served well by their government. They missed a deadline, couldn’t access a health service, missed out on the right benefit, underpaid tax, or didn’t apply for a government job — all because they didn’t understand, or they misunderstood. Most of these cases paint a picture of members of the public feeling vulnerable, disillusioned, and unheard.
Applying lessons from the good
Of course, the Plain English Awards are mostly about celebrating the good. We see outstanding examples of plain language every year and applaud those government agencies who write for the public with clarity and empathy. What would happen if all agencies wrote to that high standard? What if excellence were the norm?
Those agencies that write well give us a glimpse of what the Plain Language Act could achieve. Based on the outcomes noted on the entry forms of category winners, we’d see a positive transformation in writing quality inside government agencies. This shift would in turn result in a positive change in public perceptions.
In government agencies we’d see:
- significant efficiencies in producing documents, saving time and salaries
- greater ability to meet deadlines, with a better-quality result
- fewer misunderstandings
- more coherent, better planned messaging — getting it right the first time
- less time and angst answering the public’s queries because confusion has been removed
- less time editing or reworking colleagues’ documents that fall short of the basic standards of plain language
- less money being wasted on civil servants having to learn new ways of writing every time they move departments
- the likelihood that government ministers would drop their personal preferences that cost so many writers so much time.
We’d also see:
- easier working lives and greater job satisfaction for ministers and civil servants alike — this means reduced stress, fewer sick days, few resignations, and reduced likelihood of unmotivated workers
- a recognisable government style that is clear, human, and helpful.
For members of the public, we’d see:
- people feeling empowered to access the information they need
- more equitable access to information because people can find and understand the information they need
- reduced need to contact agencies to clarify information or instructions
- greater trust and confidence in government communications
- an observable humanising of tone, even in communications from regulatory agencies.
Additionally, businesses and other organisations would gain a touchstone for what good writing looks like — an impact that cannot be underestimated.
Recommendations to take the bill further
We have two recommendations to increase the impact of the bill and reduce the cost of administration across government agencies.
Include a plain language standard to clarify expectations
The Plain English Awards are based on the aspiration of writing to a high standard. Indeed, they take their name from standards-based sponsor WriteMark. Therefore, we highly recommend that the bill require government agencies to adopt a short and achievable writing standard such as the freely available and customisable Write Plain Language Standard.
We understand that this useful standard is already widely used and adapted by many New Zealand government agencies, plus a number of organisations internationally. Providing agencies with a documented standard makes expectations clear and avoids duplicate effort across the public sector.
Include consequences for non-compliance
The bill has so much potential to improve the effectiveness and reputation of government. But we are concerned that it may have much less impact if there are no meaningful consequences for failing to implement it. Our contacts in the US plain language movement tell us that the US Plain Writing Act was quite effective at first, but became much less so over time as agencies realised nothing would happen if they did not comply.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment.
WriteMark Plain English Awards Trust
Posted In: 2022 Plain Language Awards, Clear communication, Communications
clear communication, democracy, government communication, plain language, Plain Language Bill, writing for the public
It’s time for clarity like these crystal clear reflections at Lake Dunstan, Bendigo in Otago, New Zealand | Photo by Stewart Watson on Excio
With entries for the 2022 Awards opening very soon, we’ve been making a few changes at Awards Central!
Welcome to our new Awards coordinator
First of all, we welcome our new Awards coordinator, Shelly Shah, to the Awards Working Group. Shelly will be helping us with all aspects of the 2022 Awards — from organising the entry process and confirming sponsors and judges, right through to coordinating the Awards ceremony in late October. You’ll hear more from Shelly as we move through the various phases of the Awards.
Write Limited is proud to sponsor the Awards and provides administrative support as part of its sponsorship.
New year, new name
Have you noticed a slight change in our branding? Yes, the Awards are now called the Plain Language Awards.
Some of you commented in the survey at the end of 2021 recommending this change. Like you, we hope that changing the name of the Awards will make the event even more inclusive. And our trustees agreed unanimously with the proposal.
Changing the name of the Awards reflects the general shift to talk about ‘plain language’ in many community and business contexts, rather than ‘plain English’. You’ll have noticed that the Plain Language Bill that’s going through New Zealand’s Parliament also uses ‘plain language’ in its title!
The term ‘plain English’ is still relevant in international contexts when we wish to talk about plain English contrasted with, for example, plain Japanese or plain Spanish.
Awards founder Lynda Harris says:
We’ve been keen to update the name of the Awards for some time. But we knew we’d have a lot to do even though we’re only changing one word! We decided to make it happen for 2022. The Awards have been running for an incredible 17 years and this change feels like a fantastic refresh of our brand!
Awards patron Chloe Wright says:
‘Language’ is so relevant to today.
Our fabulous designer and long-term sponsor, Craig Christensen of Graphic Solutions, has been working his magic and is updating our branding elements and the website.
Thanks for your feedback on the 2021 Awards
Thanks to everyone who replied to our survey with their feedback. You can read the results of the survey on our website. Overall you thought the online ceremony worked well, enabling more people to join from around New Zealand and the rest of the world. And it’s great to hear that you agree the Awards are still making a difference!
Find out what people said about the Awards in 2021
Posted In: 2022 Plain Language Awards, Communications
Industry awards, plain language, Plain Language Awards, sponsors