Plain Language Awards

Celebrate the stories of our clearest business communicators

Winner: People’s Choice — Worst Brainstrain Communication 2019

Auckland Council

Document name

Proposed Plan Change letter

Judges’ comment

This document is very difficult to understand, which disturbs me because it seems very important for landowners. Also, the writer portrays the content as unimportant, but I don’t think it is so, and this makes me suspicious. I think every landowner should be able to understand and know what is changing. It’s their right.

The council is trying to bring to the attention of its ratepayers/residents there is a planning change. But it has failed miserably to think about how to get that message across in plain language. It appears to be written for people who understand council processes, not for those who will be most affected by the change.

The document contains all of the information needed to clearly inform residents, it’s just poorly constructed and edited. Clarity can be created, and repetition can be removed, and I hope Auckland Council learns from this nomination and, next time, puts its best foot forward.

Media statement

We accept this recognition of our outstanding leadership in that time-honoured tradition of advancing jargonism as an alternative language — a tradition dear to the hearts of technocrats and bureaucrats everywhere.

But despite our commitment to preserving this tradition, we hear you Auckland — you want less jargon-laden language.

That’s why we’re now proposing Plain English Change 19 — Clarifying the relationship between our Plain English Language Overlay and the underlying hegemony of technobabble provisions within Auckland Council’s use of the English language (or any other language used with, or instead of, the English language).

The Plain English Language Overlay will help manage our use of the English language. It will be used with, but in no way be subjugated or superseded by, any English dictionary, thesaurus or accepted English grammar rules that manage how the English language is used, developed and recorded.

The proposed Plain English Change 19 seeks changes to Auckland Council’s use of the English language to make it clear that certain straightforward provisions of the Plain English Language Overlay would prevail over the corresponding provisions of underlying gibberish and jargon. The proposed Plain English Change 19 also refines some of the standards used within the English language, including the use of grammar in relation to style, syntax, punctuation and spelling.

The intention of the proposed Plain English Change 19 is to provide clarity for policy wonks, technocrats and legalese professionals about how Auckland Council’s use of the English language will be applied when decisions are made about activities that require us to communicate in plain English.

We’re glad for the opportunity to make that clear for everyone.

All jokes aside, we accept this award in good humour, but take the feedback on board. We didn’t get it right this time around and this is a fitting reminder of the importance of using plain English when we’re talking to our communities.

John Duguid
General Manager Plans and Places
Auckland Council