Overcoming the overwhelming

You’ve committed to a plain language project but your organisation is full of thousands of unplain documents. When your project’s ready to go, how do you possibly get started?

The key is to draw a line in the sand.

Staring in the face of large-scale change
Allanah Kalafatelis was Communications Manager at New Zealand’s Commerce Commission when the organisation committed to a plain language culture change.

The Commission’s audience was extremely varied. They produced written reports and documents for anything from large, regulated telecommunications, electricity, or gas companies, to small, unregulated businesses, advisors, and members of the public. And they had over 15,000 documents on their website, with that number growing daily.

Biting the bullet
When it came to getting started on their plain language change, Allanah knew the Commission would never be able to rewrite every single one of their documents.

‘I realised then that the important thing was to start: to draw a line in the sand and say: “From now on, we write in plain English.”’

Having drawn a line in the sand, the Commerce Commission managed to transform its writing style and attitude within a year. They went from winning the less-than-desirable People’s Choice ‘Brainstrain’ award in the annual WriteMark New Zealand Plain English Awards, to finalist in the Plain English Champion — Best Organisation category the following year.