The Plain Language Act is the start of a new era | Photo by DaMoJo on excio.io
Lynda Harris, chief executive of Write Limited and founder of the Plain Language Awards, gave this speech at the online Awards ceremony on 27 October 2022.
Kia ora koutou, welcome plain language friends
Who would have thought that we’d be not only celebrating finalists and winners today, but the birth of a Plain Language Act as well. It feels like a new era. It’s been thrilling to receive so many well wishes from plain language advocates around the world … these include people in government, in healthcare, in the legal and financial sectors, all of whom see New Zealand’s legislation as a model for others to follow.
Unfortunately, those who opposed the bill called it a ‘stupid piece of legislation that doesn’t actually fix anything, And there’s absolutely no evidence that there’s actually a problem.’
There is evidence. Plenty of it.
And because of that, I believe this is a historic moment with so much potential for good. Let me show you why.
First let’s start with the many reasons as to ‘why plain language matters to you and me’. The reasons are the things we talk about often: transparency, access to justice and to the rights we enjoy as people who live here, efficiency, trust, fairness, and many more foundational concepts that we believe make a healthy, happy society.
We don’t tend to notice when these important expectations play out as they should. But we do take notice when they don’t. We quickly tend toward frustration, indignation, perhaps even anger. We might even give up.
The members of the public who nominate documents and websites for the Brainstrain award certainly feel those things. Thinking back over nominations for that dubious award I can recall:
- a frazzled business owner who was deeply frustrated by a COVID-19 leave application form
- a passenger who described their search for information on an airline’s website ‘as going around in circles’
- someone reading a council letter who said ‘I felt a bit ill when I tried to read this impenetrable letter’
- a director trying to update company details on what he called ‘this dreaded website, whose interface is user-unfriendly to an unusual degree’
- a deeply frustrated parent trying to enrol their children in a rural primary school
- a person with a masters degree who angrily said they couldn’t understand a letter from their city council
- a frustrated customer of a major bank who described a letter as unintelligible
- an elderly woman who couldn’t understand an important letter from the hospital
- a student who couldn’t navigate a form for a badly needed loan.
Those who nominated these documents are everyday people, like you and me … consumers, parents, small business owners, ratepayers, travellers, students, patients, and individuals simply trying to get our lives in order. So that’s evidence at a personal level.
But there’s more.
A second set of evidence of the need for plain language is found in the many submissions on the Bill. They came from groups and individuals from every walk of life, some already disadvantaged in one way or another. But the story was always the same … hurt, harm, frustration, barriers, all caused by unclear information. I wish I had time to share some of them with you.
And now let’s look at a third set of evidence. I’m talking about your entries, that came from across the public and private sectors on a vast array of topics, written for audiences representing every aspect of New Zealand society. Every one of you wrote, or rewrote those documents, because you saw evidence that something wasn’t working, or you understood the consequences of not communicating well, and you did something about it. And you did it for others, not for you.
Which brings me back to my comment that the Act has tremendous potential for good, and particularly so through you, who are already plain language advocates.
I see the Act as a giant OPPORTUNITY for all, in neon capital letters. And I suggest that that we can do two things — at least — to make the most of it.
The first is to:
Speak up: in your workplace, step into your reader’s shoes, notice more, find the stories that need to be told. In your private life, be an aware consumer, speak up when information isn’t plain, not only for yourself, but for those who feel the fault in comprehension is theirs, when we know that it’s not.
And the second is to:
User-test: Be an agent for change by getting proof of what’s not working. You won’t know what people understand or don’t understand from your messages if you don’t ask them. And you won’t know their emotional reaction either. You’ll be amazed at what people tell you if they are given a chance.
I recall some user-testing we did for a law firm years ago. The senior team didn’t believe a communication problem existed because no one complained. The frank and somewhat shocking feedback from the user-test group led the team to humbly conclude ‘silence doesn’t mean satisfaction’.
And so to end, may I suggest that you, who know the power of plain language, use this new Act as the wind beneath your wings. Allow it to be a triumph for democracy, and a catalyst to achieve all those things we mentioned at the start — equity, inclusion, transparency, and above all, clarity in the documents that we all need to live our lives well.
And congratulations to all our winners, finalists, and entrants celebrated here today.
Lynda Harris October 27th, 2022
Posted In: 2022 Plain Language Awards, 2022 Plain Language Awards ceremony, Story theme
Tags: advocate, Brainstrain, clear communication, People's Choice, plain language, Plain Language Act, Social good
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
Anne-Marie Chisnall May 12th, 2022
Posted In: 2022 Plain Language Awards, Communications, Story theme
Tags: 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
Keep sharing your love of plain language with the world | Photo by Cristian Dina on Pexels
Now that entries for the 2021 Plain English Awards are closed, our judges are hard at work reviewing all the wonderful entries we received. But that doesn’t mean everything stops until we announce the finalists and then the winners. You can still spread the good word and share your love story for plain language.
Keep the conversation buzzing through our gallery
You can browse our video gallery to hear everyone’s stories about their love for plain language, the journey they went on for their entry, or about a project they’re working on.
Look through our video gallery and hear what others have to say
We’d love to hear your plain language love story — we’re keen to hear from all our local and international plain language companions!
Tell your plain language story in a video
Why not create your own video to share in our gallery? Sometimes the hardest part about making a video is where to begin. Believe me, it’s simpler than you think!
You don’t have to be Peter Jackson and direct the next fantasy epic (although that would be amazing). And we’re not looking for Down Under’s Next Top Video Maker.
You could talk to your phone and record a short video. Or you could create a slideshow or animation with either text or voice-over to tell your story. Or you might interview a colleague. We’ve got all sort of styles and formats in the gallery.
Here are some ideas for topics you might cover in your video.
- What does plain language mean to you?
- Why does plain language matter in your industry?
- How did your customers react when you used plain language in a document?
Check out our guidelines for creating your plain language story
Meet other plain language fans
You’re not alone in your love for plain language! Remember that you have friends all over the world who are passionate about plain language.
Our video gallery features stories from people all over the globe who appreciate all things plain and simple — and you can feature alongside them! So have fun and continue to spread the word about your plain language love story.
Find out who sponsors the Awards and loves plain language as much as you
Subscribe to our newsletter to keep up to date on Awards news
Jonathan Tan August 12th, 2021
Posted In: 2021 Plain English Awards, Communications, Story theme
Tags: clarity, clear communication, improved writing, plain language culture, Plain language story, Story, transformation, video story
Media release: 7 May 2021
After holding off entries last year, the full Plain English Awards are back in 2021. The Awards will look a little different this year, with a virtual ceremony and some new ways for entrants to share their inspiring work in clear communication.
Fresh Awards with a new theme
This year’s theme for the Awards is Story. We’re inviting the public to share the stories behind their plain language projects in short videos. We’ll showcase these videos in a gallery to inspire and enlighten the wider public. The video gallery is open now.
‘A major goal for the Awards has always been to bring plain language into common use,’ says chair of the WriteMark Plain English Awards Trust, Gregory Fortuin. ‘We know that stories raise awareness and inspire action. The more visible the stories of our entrants, the more sparks of possibility and innovation will be lit.’
All the familiar categories are back
This year’s Awards will feature all categories, including the two People’s Choice categories for Best Communication and the infamous Brainstrain.
‘As we’ve seen in the events of 2020 and beyond, clear communication makes a real difference in people’s lives,’ Gregory says. ‘Here’s a chance to celebrate all the great work that people having been doing over the past couple of years.’
Important dates for the 2021 Awards
- 1 June: Entries open
- 31 July: Entries close
- 30 September: Finalists announced
- 14 October: Winners announced
Big thanks to our media partner, Newsroom
The goodwill and support of our sponsorship partners keeps the Plain English Awards ticking. We’re immensely grateful to New Zealand-based news and current affairs site, Newsroom.co.nz for believing in our cause and being our media partner.
Get more information
Jonathan Tan, project manager, 2021 Plain English Awards | firstname.lastname@example.org
Gregory Fortuin, Chair, WriteMark Plain English Awards Trust | 021 465 254
Nicola Welby May 7th, 2021
Posted In: 2021 Plain English Awards, Communications, Media release, Plain English Awards, Story theme
Tags: 2021 Plain English Awards, Best communication, Best Plain English Communication, Brainstrain, clear communication, People's Choice, plain English, Plain English Awards, plain language, recognition, writing for the public