Plain Language Awards

Celebrate the stories of our clearest business communicators

Winner: Best Plain English Sentence Transformation 2017

Jan Schrader, Stats NZ

Judith Wright, centre, representing Jan Schrader from Stats NZ, with sponsors Chloe and Wayne Wright

Document name

Annual Report

Intended audience

MPs and the public (on website)

Original sentence

Over the year we tested the innovation readiness and change-adaptability of the organisation, made significant changes to our prioritisation and investment approaches, moved to activity based working and seen teams across Stats respond by making time to focus on tackling customer and internal pain points.
[45 words]

Rewritten sentence

We tested how ready our organisation was to innovate and make changes. We also changed our approach to setting priorities and to investing, and moved to a flexible working style for our staff. In response, staff focused on solving their own, and customers’, irritations.
[44 words; 3 sentences]

Judges’ comments

The friendly, light tone in this rewrite is a delight. By removing jargon the writer took something overly wordy and baffling and made it very easy to read and absorb. It beautifully captured and clarified the meaning of the original. We wouldn’t have known that ‘activity-based working’ meant a flexible working style for staff. It also had an easy flow, which moved neatly from innovations by the organisation to how that benefited staff and customers. Our compliments!

The original long 45-word sentence was also split into sentences of differing lengths. That gave it a nice rhythmic flow and avoided the staccato (also called machine-gun) effect of several short sentences in a row. Our brains work rhythmically, and many short sentences can be as hard to absorb as a long sentence. Very well done on that judgement call.

I estimate an 85 percent quality improvement in this rewrite. When I finished the original I was wondering what the pain points were. When I finished the rewrite I said aloud ‘Ooh – awesome!’ about the results of the changes. I understood it and it had a positive impact.

Media statement

Stats NZ had a busy and challenging year after last November’s earthquakes. Our annual report had many changes to communicate; most content came from different writers.

At times, sentences that conflicted with Stats NZ’s long-term commitment to plain English snuck into the report’s mix. We had to act. Our entry to the sentence transformation category gave us an example.

‘We can’t allow this complex corporate-speak out into the wide world!’ the editors cried. Our plain English mantra reminded us that people only want to read a sentence once, so we set to work.

We sliced, diced, and reconstituted the original content into three brief courses. This helped our readers learn how Stats NZ staff worked together to overcome the earthquakes’ disruption, and our consequent move to a new home.

We thank the Plain English Awards for including Stats NZ as a winner in 2017.

Jan Schrader