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

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Two New Zealander experts report from the 2013 PLAIN Conference

Two plain English practitioners from Wellington attended October's PLAIN 2013 Conference in Vancouver.

Case studies compared Canada's environment with a New Zealand KiwiSaver project 

 Anne-Marie Chisnall, describes the presentation about plain English in the field of finance.

‘On the second day of the conference, I spoke in a joint session with Michelle Black of Simply Read, a consultancy firm based in Canada. Michelle does a lot of work in the areas of financial, health, and legal information. So our talks were complementary.

Anne-Marie says, 'Michelle set the scene for the Canadian financial environment and I came in with a case study about KiwiSaver investment statements in New Zealand.

'The session participants were interested in the similar initiatives in financial literacy in the two countries. And in how to achieve a plain document when working with many interested parties — especially legal reviewers who often tend to want to reverse plain language changes.’

The conference's inspiration is available online

And Lynda Harris, Anne-Marie’s colleague, said the conference was ‘inspiring and brim-full of information’.

‘Karen Schriver's fantastic session on evidence-based plain language, Mark Hochhauser's research on how readers think and understand, and Deborah Bosley's case studies linking research and better business, were just some of the many highlights.’

Most of the conference presentations will soon be posted on the PLAIN 2013 website so keep an eye out for them. Lynda says  that the plenary sessions were videoed. ‘They’ll be great watching.’

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Plain English Awards are open for entries

It's time to round up your entries for the Plain English Awards. One sentence is all it takes if you enter the category of Best Plain English Sentence Transformation!

Or you can enter your documents and websites, individual champions and project teams, and technical communicators.

If you'd like to sponsor the Awards, contact the Plain English Awards Trust. They'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Plain English revisited

Ever find yourself slipping into jargon or adding a bit of padding for effect? Maybe it's time for a plain English refresher. This blog by Oxford Dictionaries reminds us why plain English works for writers and readers.
Read the blog: Keep calm and say it plainly

And if you'd like to check how plain your writing is, get a WriteMark assessment.
Find out about the WriteMark

Monday, April 22, 2013

New Plain English credit contract hits the market

DTR has started using a new credit contract written in plain English. The new contract is designed to help customers understand what DTR promises, and what the customer needs to promise, before anyone signs the contract.

The contract is called the 'Easi-own agreement'. It's the first consumer finance contract in New Zealand to carry the WriteMark, New Zealand’s plain English quality mark. 

We look forward to hearing what customers think about the new contract.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Plain is the new beautiful

Congratulations to ANZ on achieving the WriteMark for their new ANZ KiwiSaver investment statement. The investment statement has been posted to close to 200,000 New Zealanders. It is the first KiwiSaver investment statement in the country to carry the WriteMark.

“We wanted our refreshed ANZ KiwiSaver Scheme Investment Statement to have the highest standards for plain English and clarity,” said John Body, Managing Director, ANZ Wealth and Private Banking, New Zealand.

“WriteMark is the recognised quality mark for plain English in New Zealand and we are pleased to be the first in the industry to carry a WriteMark on our KiwiSaver investment statement. We believe displaying the WriteMark gives members confidence that our documents have been written to make things easier for them. All the information they need is easy to find and easy to read,” Mr Body said.

We believe that documents written in plain English are not just good for readers; they’re good for businesses, too — because readers have fewer unanswered questions and a better understanding, and because they feel more positive about the organisation.

We’re impressed with the commitment ANZ has made to its investors. Some financial institutions and their lawyers have argued that writing an investment statement in plain English is just not possible. ANZ has shown that the naysayers are wrong; investment statements can be clear.

For more about the WriteMark, see our FAQ.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Making business writing better

Our WriteMark assessors like this recent blog from Bryan A. Garner for the Harvard Business Review. He talks about ways to connect with your reader and avoid sending them to sleep.

Read Bryan A. Garner's blogpost

The techniques he mentions are all tried and true fundamentals of plain language. And they match neatly with the language-related criteria of the WriteMark Plain English Standard.

Read about the WriteMark criteria

Writing in plain language helps you connect with your reader and get your message across — first time. Your readers will thank you for it.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Awards time in the United States

It's that time of year when our friends in the US seek nominations for the ClearMark and WonderMark awards.

The ClearMark awards celebrate the best in clear communication and plain language from US government and not-for-profit organisations, and private companies.
Read more about the ClearMark awards

The WonderMark award is a chance to highlight documents that miss the mark and need to be written much more clearly to meet the reader's needs. 

The Center for Plain Language's website has lots of examples from earlier awards and they make for interesting reading. 

Later in the year, New Zealand's Plain English Awards will be taking place. And to get us thinking about what to nominate for our People's Choice 'Brainstrain' awards, take a look at some  documents that have received the WonderMark award. 
Read about the 2012 WonderMark awards

Read about the 2012 WriteMark New Zealand Plain English Awards

Friday, January 18, 2013

Plain language in regulations

We continue our series of guest posts with this piece from Dr Annetta Cheek. Annetta is an anthropologist by training, with a PhD from the University of Arizona. She worked for the US Government from 1980 until early 2007 and spent four years as the chief plain language expert on Vice President Al Gore's National Partnership for Reinventing Government. She was the chair of the federal interagency plain language advocacy group PLAIN, from when it was founded in 1995 until she retired from the government. She also administered the group’s website,

Since retiring, Annetta has served as Chair of the board of the private sector Center for Plain Language. The Center held its third annual awards at the National Press Club in May 2012. Annetta is also the Director of Plain Language Programs for NOVAD Consulting and R3I Consulting, two Washington DC-based consulting firms.

In 2010, the United States Congress passed, and President Obama signed, the Plain Writing Act. That act requires agencies to write in plain language any material about public services and benefits. Plain language advocates, and especially the Center for Plain Language, had been advocating such an act for some years.

But noticeably missing from the act were government regulations. In fact, the act specifically excluded regulations from coverage. While regulations had been included in the first several versions of the bill, the provision was lost during the negotiations that are an integral part of the process of getting Congress to pass legislation. 

Reasons behind the loss of this provision included a concern that it would have been used as an excuse to stall regulations (“Take this back and rewrite it — it isn’t in plain language!”) and of course the old wives’ tale about plain language being imprecise. And during the campaign for the bill, a number of attorneys from federal agencies traipsed up to Capitol Hill to complain that writing in plain language was just too hard. I admit I was a bit surprised by that — while I know that writing in plain language is not nearly as easy as the outcome may make it look,  I’m not used to attorneys admitting that they can’t write something.

We believe that it’s critical for the government to write regulations in plain language. Regulations are the starting point for most, if not all, federal programs. All too often, confusing regulatory language flows down into the documents that go directly to the public. Statutory language is often obscure, and the public needs decent regulatory language to clear up the confusion. I worked on many programs during my 25 years as a federal employee in which members of the public read the regulations themselves. They didn’t want to have to pay some attorney or technical expert to explain the regulations to them. Nor should they have to. The government should write all its documents in a style that’s accessible to the intended reader.

We’ll be going back to Capitol Hill when the new Congress starts to meet. We’ll be talking to them again about plain language in regulations. And we’ll keep talking to them until we achieve our goal. It’s a battle worth fighting, and one that citizens in all countries should take on.