Ready Set Go! | Image by Hellie Hadfield
Newsflash: You can now collaborate on entries! Just hit the ‘manage collaborators’ link at the top of the entry form, and invite colleagues to work with you.
That’s right, we’ve gone live!
Entries are now open for the 2023 Plain Language Awards.
Our virtual postboxes at Awards HQ are waiting to be filled to the brim with your concise reports, clear technical documents, accessible websites, and simple sentences. As always, you can choose from 13 categories, so hop to it!
Short on time? Here are some easy ones…
Have you already transformed something old and gnarly into something clear and shiny? Whether a whole document or website, or merely a troublesome sentence, we’ve got you covered. Check out the Best Plain Language Turnaround and Best Plain Language Sentence Transformation categories.
Documents, plain and simple
The Best Plain Language Document category celebrates beautiful business documents that are clear on purpose and content. Enter yours in the category for public sector or private sector.
Maybe you and your team have been grappling with an annual report, making your end-of-year business story easy for all to absorb. If so, be sure to check out the Best Plain Language Annual Report category.
Or maybe you’ve created a masterful document that banishes legal jargon and uses plain language? If your document covers legal, financial, or compliance topics, check out Best Plain Language Legal Document.
For the technical whizzes and content enthusiasts, why not enter your super easy-to-use website in the Best Plain Language Website category?
Masters of simplification
Are you, or someone in your company, the go-to for simplifying technical topics and communicating with clarity? Then enter a portfolio in the Best Plain Language Technical Communicator.
Maybe an individual or a team in your organisation really stands out as having championed plain language changes? Maybe they’ve run workshops, created some resources, or led organisation-wide initiatives? Sounds like they should be put forward for the Plain Language Champion — Best Individual or Team.
Or, has your organisation taken things a step further, and successfully transformed the writing culture of the workplace? If so, prepare your entry portfolio for the Plain Language Champion — Best Organisation category.
Or nominate someone else
Seen someone else do an awesome job? Maybe your insurance company has a super clear website, or a friendly government agency communicated in a top-notch manner. If so, why not nominate them for People’s Choice — Best Plain Language Communication. They deserve to be celebrated!
If, on the other hand, you have come across some truly diabolical discourse, a real humdinging head-scratcher, why not enter it in People’s Choice — Worst Brainstrain Communication. That way, you’ll help to bring about a positive change.
So what are you waiting for?
The Awards categories have something for everyone and every type of business writing. So what are you waiting for? Get entering!
Enter the 2023 Plain Language Awards
Posted In: 2023 Plain Language Awards, Communications
clear communication, plain language, Plain Language Awards
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.
Posted In: 2022 Plain Language Awards, 2022 Plain Language Awards ceremony, Story theme
advocate, Brainstrain, clear communication, People's Choice, plain language, Plain Language Act, Social good
Good, better, best: it's over to the judges to decide | Photo by Canstock
Thanks to all who entered this year’s Awards! After a flurry of last-minute entries, we have handed everything over to our intrepid judging team. All 36 of them!
This year a third of the judges are from New Zealand and the rest are from the US, UK, Australia, and Europe. All are accomplished plain language experts and strong advocates for Ernest Gowers’ advice: ‘Be short, be simple, be human’.
How do our expert independent judges pick their winners? It’s a big job so we thought you’d like to know a bit more about it.
First up, shortlisting
First, our judges read over each entry, carefully checking against the plain language criteria. Then they vote on their shortlist. This all happens independently in the Submittable system, which allows ‘thumbs-up, thumbs-down’ voting.
Next, judges do a detailed review of all entries, writing comments for each of the assessment criteria. Each panel works hard to make sure feedback is balanced, fair, and helpful. The goal at this stage is to recognise and affirm great writing and to help entrants do even better by making suggestions and giving examples for improvement.
We know that entrants really value the expert feedback. For some, it’s the best aspect of entering! Submittable calculates scores for each of the criteria and averages them across the judging panel to help the panel agree on a few contenders for the category awards.
Last, picking the finalists and winners
Now the judges deliberate as a team to pick their finalists and winners — quite a logistics exercise with judges living all over the globe! The deliberation stage can involve lots of lively debate, especially when many entries are of a very high standard!
When judges need to choose between two excellent entries, it usually comes down to impact. Entries where the work has made the greatest positive impact will usually triumph.
When all is agreed, lead judges review the written comments for all shortlisted entries to make extra sure that the comments are clear and helpful.
So if you entered this year, good luck! Regardless of the outcome, you’ve done a good thing and your users are thanking you! (A trophy is good too of course!)
How the judging process works
Judges for the 2022 Plain Language Awards
Posted In: 2022 Plain Language Awards, Judges, Shortlists
clear communication, judges, plain language, Plain Language Awards
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
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
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
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
Use your superpowers and spread the word about plain language | Photo by Austris Augusts on Unsplash
Lynda Harris, Write and WriteMark CEO and Awards founder, spoke at the Plain English Awards ceremony on 14 October 2021. Here is her introduction to the premier award of Plain English Champion — Best Organisation. The Champion category is sponsored by Write Limited.
So here we are in the middle of the Champion category with all this suspense before we announce the premier Award! For that reason I have been told to be very brief!
It’s no secret that the Champion category is my favourite. Not only because it honours such wonderful people and projects, but because the concept of being a Champion is absolutely inherent in the whole concept of the Awards.
Even though as a country we are so much better at plain language now, we still need to push for it. And the people who do the pushing, inspiring, and advocating are the champions. When you’re persuading a manager or a senior leader that clarity and connection is worth the time and effort, you’re being a champion. When you’re writing a business case for a plain language makeover, you’re being a champion. If you’re at this ceremony, you’re a champion.
So to all you champions, thank you!
Use your superpowers to make the world a better place
Years ago in 2007 we made a little animated video about a superhero who had P on his cape. That was P for PLAIN. Our PLAIN superhero swooped around workplaces converting people into superheros. Lots of plain language champions, in other words. It was a bit corny to be fair, but I often think that as plain language advocates and champions we are wearing a metaphorical superhero outfit.
I actually asked Google the defining qualities of a superhero and it helpfully told me that they were super strength, flight, telepathy, telekinesis, super speed, super intelligence, and super gadgets.
Well, you can take from that what you will. But the best bit that rings true is that they typically use their powers to help the world become a better place.
You are already using your superpowers to do just that. But maybe you never thought of it that way. Whether you’re a bold visionary, a passionate campaigner, or a quiet doer, you have qualities that the world needs more of. You have stories to tell about people who need clarity and connection. And you have the skills to inspire others to be champions like you.
So please take stock of your superpowers, don that cape, gather others around you, and continue to champion the cause for human-centred writing. Write’s slogan is ‘using the power of words for good’. Together we are all doing just that.
Congratulations to the winners of the Best Organisation Award!
Read about the winners of the Champion Best Organisation Award
Posted In: 2021 Awards ceremony, 2021 Plain English Awards
2021 Plain English Awards, Best Organisation, Champion, clear communication, power of plain English
Media release: 14 October 2021
Winners in the 2021 annual Plain English Awards were announced at an online ceremony earlier today. More than a hundred people attended the virtual ceremony, including many Awards supporters from outside New Zealand.
Two Champion winners
The award for the Plain English Champion — Best Organisation went to Citizens Advice Bureau New Zealand (CAB). Lead judge for the category Matt Huntington said he was particularly impressed by CAB’s understanding of how communicating clearly is key to their effectiveness.
‘And then they take it one extra step to acknowledge the importance of communicating with empathy and respect on top of that!’ Matt says. ‘The fact that they can do this successfully while relying on such a large and diverse group of volunteers is a testament to their grounding in plain language communications.’
Entries for the Awards opened up to Australia for the first time this year. And one of the Australian entries was awarded the Plain English Champion — Best Individual or Team. Lauren Kelindeman, from law firm Legalite in Melbourne, was praised by judges for her exemplary work. Legalite was also a finalist in the Plain English Champion — Best Organisation category.
‘Lauren’s commitment to plain English shines bright in the amount of work she’s done and the quality of the advice she’s created,’ says judge Steph Prince.
In praise of clear documents and websites
The award for the Best Plain English Document in the private sector went to Ryman Healthcare for its myRyman Life eLearning tool. Health Navigator NZ took out the public sector award with its leaflet on treating type 2 diabetes, Empagliflozin.
The Best Plain English Website award for the public sector went to the Ministry of Social Development for the website www.youthservice.govt.nz. No entries made it to winner status in the private sector award for this category in 2021.
Rethinking a document or website to improve it
The Best Plain English Turnaround award went to Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency for its turnaround of The New Zealand code for cycling.
Legal, Annual Report, and Technical Communicator categories
Southern Cross Travel Insurance took out the Best Legal Document award for its Domestic Travel Insurance Policy Document.
National Trauma Network won Best Plain English Annual Report for its New Zealand Trauma Registry Annual Report 2019/20.
The Best Plain English Technical Communicator was the team at thinkstep-anz.
Spotlight on the humble sentence
Auckland City Council won the award for Best Plain English Sentence Transformation.
People’s Choice — the best ‘but no worst’
Several top-notch entries were submitted by members of the public for the People’s Choice — Best Plain English Communication category. Kiwibank won this award for its letter We’re improving our home loan documents.
One of the judges of this entry said, ‘Taking complex subject matter such as home loans and making it accessible is not easy. Kiwibank have done an excellent job in communicating this, and on a single A4 sheet! Bravo!’
And in what is thought to be a first for the Plain English Awards, no entries were received for the notorious People’s Choice — Worst Brainstrain award. Lead judge for this category Simon Hertnon says he’d like to think that this is a good sign: ‘A sign that people are putting more thought into their communications. That the plain language message is getting through.’
Telling stories to inspire others
The theme of this year’s Awards was ‘Story!’ Awards founder and CE of plain language consultancy Write Limited Lynda Harris says:
‘The goal of sharing stories is to help people understand the “why” behind different plain language projects. That is, why a plain language approach was vitally important for that project, and how it helped its success.
‘By telling people’s stories, we want to shine a light on the impact of people’s efforts. And to give the public a glimpse behind the scenes of plain language as it plays out in the lives of individuals and organisations. Ultimately, we’d like people to be inspired to take similar approaches.’
Thanks to Awards sponsors
Sponsors play a key part in keeping the Plain English Awards going. Organisers would like to thank the following organisations for their support: WriteMark Limited, Write Limited, the Wright Family Foundation, Graphic Solutions, NZ Super Fund, Newsroom, Streamliners, TechCommNZ, Skillset, printing.com, MoneyHub, Consumer, Shelly Davies, Community Comms Collective, Editor Software (UK), Informed Investor magazine, Kendons, and Modica Group.
Find out more
See the full list of winners and finalists
Posted In: 2021 Awards ceremony, Communications, Media release
2021 Plain English Awards, Best communication, Best Plain English Communication, Brainstrain, champions, clear communication, People's Choice, plain English, Plain English Awards, plain language, recognition, writing for the public