I recently read a blog commenting on efforts in US government departments and agencies to instil plain language principles in the hearts and minds of their many employees. The author, US plain language advocate, Kath Straub, said ‘Plain language is no longer a grass roots effort, but it also is not a pervasive part of government culture yet.’
I’m going to put myself out on a limb here and say that I believe the ideal of plain language is pervasive across most New Zealand government organisations. Sure, that may not translate into perfection in every government document or website, and you’ll still find some awful government writing without looking too hard. But in my observation the notion of plain language (mostly called plain English here) is alive and well across our public sector. And, as documented in Part 3 of Rewrite, some government organisations have been doing an outstanding job of changing the way their people think and feel about writing.
Statistics New Zealand, the Office of the Auditor-General, and the Commerce Commission all come to mind as workplaces in which the ability to write in plain language is highly valued, expected, and even seen as good for one’s career. And they are not alone. I’ve just spoken at a gathering of government communications staff who are creating a plain English ‘community of practice’. (More on this next week.)
As Kath Straub says, ‘instilling a capability like plain language … into an organisation’s culture takes, time, effort, and consistent leadership’. So we take our hats off to those organisations across New Zealand’s public sector in which leaders are consistently putting in the effort to make changes that are good for consumers and citizens alike.