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$10,000 on offer for best plain English writing

$10,000 on offer for best plain English writing

Write Group – 9 May 2008
For immediate release

The top prize of $10,000 in this year’s WriteMark Plain English Awards will go to the organisation most committed to communicating in plain English.

Organisations are invited to submit examples of their communications for a range of awards, or to nominate others who are putting a plain English philosophy into practice. Members of the public can nominate business documents and websites for the People’s Choice Awards.

Winners will be announced at a ceremony on 11 September hosted by Fair Go presenter Kevin Milne. Kevin is a staunch supporter of the Awards because they encourage transparency and accountability in business.

“People have a right to full disclosure about what they are entitled to as customers or clients. The WriteMark Plain English Awards reward businesses who act fairly and don’t try to hide behind gobbledygook. That’s in everybody’s interests,” he says.

The WriteMark Plain English Awards are hosted by Write Group Limited, an organisation that has actively promoted the benefits of plain English for many years.

Director Lynda Harris says businesses can gain a real competitive edge by focusing on clear, reader-friendly writing. Clients are more likely to use services they understand, and support staff will spend less time sorting out problems.

However, she says the WriteMark Plain English Awards are about more than just good business practice.

“Clear communication is an important social and ethical issue. It is essential to democracy that people making decisions get clear information that is appropriate for them. People can be seriously disadvantaged by agreeing to things they don’t understand.”

She says a typical example of an unclear, confusing document was an earlier version of the Ministry of Social Development’s Student Loan Agreement.

“That agreement had been signed by thousands upon thousands of students. Many had no idea what all the conditions meant, but went ahead because they needed the money.”

The Ministry rewrote the agreement in plain English after it won the dreaded Brainstrain Award in 2006. The Brainstrain Award, which attracts a good number of entries, is given annually to the document most likely to confuse or disadvantage large numbers of people. Instead of the usual elegant trophy, the winner receives a stainless steel bucket of sour worms.

Just last month (April 2008) the United States House of Representatives passed the Braley's Plain Language in Government Communications Act requiring all federal documents and tax forms to be written in simple language.

Lynda Harris says similar legislation is needed in New Zealand, as many business and government documents written for the public need to be made clearer.

“There is growing awareness of the need for plain English communications, and it’s great to see more firms submitting their documents each year. However, what we need is a systematic overhaul, and legislation would be the best way to begin that process.”

The 2007 award for Best Plain English Document went to PHARMAC for its guide to Herceptin use. PHARMAC Project Manager Elspeth Kay said the WriteMark Plain English Awards are a wonderful way to recognise organisations who take the time to communicate clearly with their customers.

“An important part of PHARMAC's work is promoting the best possible use of medicines. We were delighted to have acknowledged the effort we put into conveying clear and sensitive information to women making decisions about their breast cancer treatment.”

A new category—Best Sentence Transformation—has been introduced this year to make it easy for anyone to enter.

“This might be just the thing for organisations wanting to start the plain English journey,” says Lynda Harris. “All you need to do is to rewrite one awful sentence that doesn’t work, making it into something clear and reader-friendly.”

Organisations wishing to submit their writing for an award, or members of the public wanting to make a People’s Choice nomination, can do so at the WriteMark Plain English Awards website ( Organisations must have an office registered in New Zealand to enter.

The 2008 WriteMark Plain English Awards will be judged by a panel of professional plain English practitioners and advocates. The judges are:

* Rachel McAlpine, Director, Quality Web Content Ltd

* Jacquie Harrison, Senior Lecturer, School of Communication Studies, AUT University

* David Russell, Former Chief Executive, Consumers' Institute

* Neil James, Plain English Foundation, Australia


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