We asked our judges for some insider advice and tips to pass on to people considering entering the Awards.
And as usual, they were more than happy to help out!
We asked our judges:
One judge liked entries that surprised them and surpassed their expectations.
Others said, ‘First impressions are crucial. For me, if the structure is helpful and logical, the language simple and clear, and the tone friendly and engaging, then the authors will definitely be in the running to be winners’.
‘The language will be the equivalent of plain speaking — ordinary, everyday language throughout the text. The document will do the job the writer describes to us.’
‘I think for me that’s when I can feel that the writer has put the effort in to realise that they are writing for a reader. It might not be perfect, but you can tell that they are thinking about the receiver of the message.’
‘It’s how the authors weigh and balance the various aspects and elements of the communication — the audience and its needs, the situation and its urgency or characteristics, the political charge of the situation and people’s reaction, and how all of that has an impact on the message, tone, word choice, sentence construction, images — and when they tell me that they have talked to the intended audience, instead of just assuming they got it right. When all of these things are cohesive, I know I have a winner.’
‘Simplicity and clear evidence of designing the information for the audience.’
Our judges want entrants to put themselves in their readers’ shoes. They want you to forget about yourself and your message. Just ‘focus on your readers’, one said, and we agree. Your audience is, after all, what really matters.
Always put yourself in your readers’ shoes. You wouldn’t want to wade through dense, long-winded, jargon-filled reports. Neither do your readers!
Another common theme from our judges was:
Keep it simple!
Here are some other top tips from our judges.
Here’s more on what to avoid, with some examples from the judges of missteps in entries that didn’t make the grade.
Judges all agreed that putting the reader first was the way to a winning entry. ‘Clarity and consideration of the audience’, said one judge.
Winning documents were thoughtfully and helpfully laid out, using clear and simple language, and in an engaging tone that inspired trust.
‘They all really moved into the heads of their readers’, one judge said. ‘What questions do they have? How can we answer those questions as clearly as possible? How can design help us? What tone of voice is needed?’
‘We have been unanimous in selecting entries that showed unusual skill, such as explaining bowel cancer with sensitivity and clarity. Others have explained complex topics in everyday language.’
‘I’ve only judged the Best Plain English Sentence Transformation before … ‘short and active’ were the two main ingredients!’
‘One of the most memorable entries I judged several years ago was a newsletter updating residents about a major road closure that was going to last several months. The details were highly technical; the inconvenience was very high for anyone who used the road. But the newsletter used similes and metaphors to explain the technical aspects; for example, ‘We need to remove the equivalent of two soccer arenas of rock’. The writer used humour and truth and, as a result, built the trust of those who read it. It could have been a boring weekly update, but instead was an engaging read in terms that even a non-engineer — who didn’t live anywhere near there — could understand. That was understanding the audience and the situation and creating something more.’
‘A conversational tone. And good design (white space, colour, graphics, and so on).’
Our judges wanted entrants to enjoy the process. ‘The standard has been rising over time’, one said. ‘Even to be chosen as a finalist is impressive and should go in your CV. The ability to write in plain English is in demand around the world.’
Another judge added, ‘It’s a great way to get valuable personal feedback on your writing! And you support plain language for everyone, no matter what someone’s abilities or background are. A great cause.’
‘No matter the outcome for your entry this year, read the comments of the judges with interest. For the most part, they will give you insights on how to approach about your next communication in a richer way.’
‘Plain English is not an add-on to good business writing — it is good business writing.’