Monday, November 24, 2014

Who will win the race for clarity?

Who’s the clearest of them all? Which organisation best understands the need for clarity in communication?

It's the ninth year in the life of the Plain English Awards. This year again saw a great bunch of entries with 122 across 12 categories. The list of finalists  is out and the wait is nearly over — we’ll know the winners on 27 November.

Showing their dedication to clarity

The finalist organisations are united by their dedication to clarity in communication. They understand that communicating clearly and simply contributes to their success, and they walk the talk. Clear communication shows they respect and understand their audiences and readers, and it builds goodwill. These organisations also know that clear communication can increase their bottom line.

‘The Awards encourage organisations to show they care about communicating honestly and clearly,’ says Gregory Fortuin, Chair of the WriteMark Plain English Awards Trust. 

‘Making the effort to communicate in plain English can make a difference to the lives of many people.’

Categories in the Awards honour documents and websites — and the people who write them. And members of the public have joined in the push for plain English by nominating good and bad documents in the People’s Choice category.

Making a difference to the bottom line

Clear communication is an important contributor to an organisation’s success. For example, last year’s grand prize winner, the Ministry of Social Development, reduced the number of phonecalls from welfare clients needing to clarify a point from an average 25% to just 2.5%. Fewer phonecalls means money saved, and less pressure on the call centre.

The spokesman for the Environmental Protection Authority said he’d been complimented for their winning entry: ‘…getting fan mail for a government publication is something of a rarity.’

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Ernest Hemingway: Cutting back words with infinite care

An author of magnificent style
The late American author Ernest Hemingway has delighted millions of readers with his writing talent. Novels such as The Old Man and the Sea, A Farewell to Arms and A Moveable Feast are all considered literary classics. His skill earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954.

Hemingway’s writing style had an enormous influence on 20th century literature. He was recognised for his sparse writing technique – for ‘trimming the verbal fat’ off his work. Hemingway called his style the ‘iceberg theory’: the facts floated above water; the supporting structure and symbolism operated out of sight.

Cutting back words with infinite care
Hemingway described his technique as similar to polishing gemstones.
‘I take great pains with my work, pruning and revising with a tireless hand. I have the welfare of my creations very much at heart. I cut them with infinite care, and burnish them until they become brilliants. What many another writer would be content to leave in massive proportions, I polish into a tiny gem’.
The Hemingway App
Such is the recognition for the power of Hemingway’s style that an app was recently created in his name. Hemingway analyses text and suggests ways to make writing ‘bold and clear’. It highlights complicated words and sentences. It helps to eliminate unnecessary adverbs and the use of passive voice. It’s certainly a useful tool worth consulting.

For more information about Ernest Hemingway, visit: Ernest Hemingway Wikipedia

An article about the Hemingway app: New Yorker Hemingway App

Link to the Hemingway app: Hemingwayapp

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A sure way to reduce complaints

Last year, New Zealand's Insurance and Savings Ombudsman Scheme had to resolve the largest number of complaints since 1998. The annual report shows the Scheme received 3,215 complaint enquiries and investigated 300 complaints. That's a lot of complaints.

House insurance, travel insurance, and vehicle insurance were the topics of many of the complaints. These types of insurance are common and many people have one or more of these policies. As long as everything is going well and they don't need to claim against their policy, they might not look too closely at the details.

But when something happens and they turn to the policy document, they might get a surprise. Suddenly the wording doesn't seem clear. They make their claim, but the answer isn't what they expected.

If they take their case further, it might become one of the 3,000+ complaints that the Insurance and Savings Ombudsman has to deal with. Many claims stem directly or indirectly from the way the information is communicated.

A global survey finds support for clearer communication

Ernst & Young's Global Consumer Insurance Survey 2012 says it's time for insurers to rethink their relationships with their customers. The survey reports the results from interviewing 5,000 customers of insurance companies. One of the main themes of their findings? Communication is key. We're not surprised. Clear communication makes for a customer-focused business.

The report says that 'better information would boost understanding'. Customers are asking for communication that is easier to understand. They want better handling of their claims — 33% of those surveyed wanted better communication. Consistency of communication across all channels and customer touchpoints is also important.

Getting the WriteMark or other document quality mark on your documents is a proven way to achieve a consistent standard of clear communication. Your customers know you care and what they read is what they get. We think fewer complaints will follow.

Read about the Insurance and Savings Ombudsman Scheme results

See who holds the WriteMark

Visit the Insurance and Savings Ombudsman website

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Plain treatment of difficult topics

When reading reports about the outbreak of ebola in Africa, I came across the NPR blog Goats and Soda. I was struck by the plain language used in many of the posts on this blog.

Most of the writers seem to consistently  use plain language techniques to talk about their 'Stories of life in a changing world'.

These stories make excellent reading. They're highly informative, but not overly complex. They explain difficult concepts and technical terms, and gently guide the reader through the topic. They mostly use short, straightforward sentences. This reader-friendly writing style helps to make the information easy to absorb and remember.

See what you think about this sample post. It reports on an interview with David Quammen, who recently wrote Spillover, a book about the science, history, and human impact of emerging diseases.
Read 'A Dress Rehearsal For The Next Big One'

Why is the blog named Goats and Soda?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Putting the big information first: Newly launched guide from the Cancer Society achieves the WriteMark

Last week the Cancer Society of New Zealand launched its new guide for people diagnosed with lung cancer. The lung cancer handbook carries the WriteMark Plain English Standard, showing that the guide has achieved a high standard of clarity.

The Cancer Society won the supreme award at the 2012 Plain English Awards. Their prize was document consulting services to the value of $10,000 from Write Limited. The Cancer Society worked with Write to review and refine the handbook. The handbook content was reviewed using the WriteMark criteria and was user-tested twice with real readers.

National Information Manager Sarah Stacy-Baynes says, 'We realised we needed to put the answers to readers' big questions first. Extra information was moved from the early part of the handbook to the appendix.'

Write's Chief Executive, Lynda Harris, is excited that the handbook has achieved the WriteMark. 'We're sure the new lung cancer handbook will become the 'go-to' resource for people needing support through diagnosis and treatment. Achieving the WriteMark shows the Cancer Society's continuing commitment to providing information in plain language to people in circumstances where they need clarity above all else.'

The new lung cancer handbook continues the Cancer Society's work to provide usable, reader-friendly resources for people with cancer, their families, and their friends.

Read the media release

Enter your document or website in the 2014 Plain English Awards

Monday, August 4, 2014

Entries are open for the Plain English Awards

It's time to enter the Plain English Awards for 2014. You're sure to find a category to suit a document or project you've been working on.

Read about the categories and entry requirements

And remember the People's Choice Awards too. You can nominate a really great document you've seen, or let the Awards judges know about one that wasn't reader-friendly.

Read about the People's Choice Awards

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Announcing the winners of the 2013 Plain English Awards

Congratulations to the winners and finalists in the 2013 Plain English Awards. Highlights of the Awards ceremony held last evening included the supreme award for Best Organisation — Plain English Champion to the Ministry of Social Development. The panel of international judges praised the Ministry's commitment to plain English.

And the winners of the not-so-coveted People's Choice 'Brainstrain' Award for the worst communication fronted up to accept their prize at the ceremony. The State Services Commission won the award for their advertisement for a Director of Continuous Improvement, described by the judges as 'management speak at its best'. The Commission said the win was a timely reminder to 'take their own medicine' and improve their writing.

See the full list of winners and finalists

Read the media release