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Plain English Awards highlight the good and bad

Plain English Awards highlight the good and bad

Write Group – 27 May 2008
For immediate release

It could be a case of 'the money or the worms' for organisations nominated in this year's WriteMark New Zealand Plain English Awards.

Do you use a diminutive word when a small one would do? Then you probably won't win the top prize of $10,000 in this year's WriteMark New Zealand Plain English Awards. You might instead get the annual 'Brainstrain' Award for gobbledygook – a bucket of sour worms.

Entries are now open for the Plain English Awards, which are hosted each year by Write Group Limited to recognise those committed to communicating in plain English.

Organisations can submit examples of their own communications for a range of awards. The public can nominate business documents and websites, either good or bad, for the People's Choice Awards.

Write Group Director Lynda Harris says one of her favourite examples of gobbledygook is a 'Passenger shoe repatriation area only' sign seen at Gatwick Airport. Another is: 'a wheeled vehicle designed for the transport in a seated or semi-recumbent position of one or two babies or infants who are placed inside a body of boat- or box-like shape – a definition of a pram.

However, she says communicating clearly with customers and clients is an important social and ethical issue, and most examples of gobbledygook are far from amusing.

"It is essential to democracy that people making decisions are not disadvantaged by jargon and obscure text. New Zealanders are entitled to clarity and transparency when dealing with business and government, and should accept nothing less."

She says New Zealand needs legislation similar to the Plain Language in Government Communications Act passed last month (April 2008) by the US House of Representatives. The Act requires all federal documents and tax forms to be written in simple language.

"Awareness is growing in New Zealand but we have a long way to go in achieving a plain English communications culture. We need a systematic overhaul, and legislation would be the best way to begin that process."

A new category – Best Sentence Transformation – has been introduced this year to make it easy for anyone to enter the Plain English Awards.

"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 New Zealand Plain English Awards will be judged by a panel of professional plain English practitioners and advocates. Winners will be announced at a ceremony on 11 September hosted by Fair Go presenter Kevin Milne, a staunch advocate for transparency in business and government.

– Ends –


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