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Who is the clearest of them all? Plain English Awards

Who is the clearest of them all? Plain English Awards will decide

26 August 2011

The time has come again to honour New Zealand’s clearest communicators, and call the bad ones to account.

Entries are open for the sixth annual WriteMark New Zealand Plain English Awards. Entries close on 30 September, and winners will be announced in November. The Awards aim to foster clear writing throughout government and business.

You can enter the WriteMark New Zealand Plain English Awards and find out more at

The People’s Choice categories are for the public to nominate the best document and website, written and laid out in the clearest way, and they are sponsored by Consumer NZ. The public can also nominate the worst publicly available document and website in the People’s Choice Brainstrain category. Instead of the WriteMark’s elegant trophy, the Brainstrain winners receive a stainless steel pedal bin of sour worms, and encouragement to re-work their writing.

Organisations can nominate their print and online information for categories like:

Best Plain English Champion—Organisation, Project, and Individual or Team

Best Technical Communicator

Best Sentence Transformation—ideal for those just starting out on the road to plain English.

Clarity—the lack of it—played a major part in the global financial crisis. This year’s Awards has a new category for the Best Plain English Financial Document, to recognise the real harm that unclear communication can do. It is sponsored by the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, which will also help to judge entries.

An international panel of 21, including leading plain English specialists, will judge the Awards. They include experts from the plain language movement in New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, the US, and the UK. Sue Chetwin, chief executive of Consumer NZ and David Russell, Consumer’s former chief executive, are also judges.

The WriteMark Trust holds the annual Plain English Awards to raise awareness of the need for plain English and its benefits.

Organisations enter because they care about communicating clearly, says Awards founder Lynda Harris. ‘Workmates and managers see efficiency increasing and complaints dropping away as their use of plain English takes hold. Participants get quite passionate about clarity, and that can become infectious.’

Sue Chetwin of Consumer NZ says about the People’s Choice categories, ‘We can’t make a change for the better if you don’t enter both best and worst performances. The awards mean a

lot to the recipients—both top performers and the Brainstrain winners. The aim is to make a difference for everyone who has to deal with a business, corporate or government department.’

She recommends everyone think about entering pieces of writing — on paper or online — that have confused or delighted them. ‘Stuff that’s tripped you up, made you utterly confused or forced you to give up. Also documents or websites that have been easy to navigate, simple and clear.’

Awards winners receive an elegant trophy by Wellington sculptor Campbell Maude, and plain English tools and services from Plain English consultancy Write Limited.

Last year’s top prize went to The Office of the Auditor General, which had run a three-year plain English culture project. They trained 300 staff in seven locations in plain English writing skills. The project’s leader, Lynley Jenkins, said, ‘We want the readers of our reports and documents to easily understand and act on them, so we can be as effective as possible. All our forms of writing have improved—from emails to our document templates to our major published reports—and we’re determined to continue improving.’


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