Plain English Awards

celebrate New Zealand's clearest communicators

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The fabulous Awards trophies created by sculptor Campbell Maud


We talk to Lynda Harris, plain language advocate and the original inspiration behind the Plain English Awards. Lynda is Chief Executive at Write Limited, premier Awards sponsor. The Awards are organised by the WriteMark Plain English Awards Trust and are now in their twelfth year.

What types of organisations enter the Awards?

All types of organisations enter — large and small, public and private sector. Basically any New Zealand organisation that cares about the way they communicate is a good candidate! Government organisations tend to get behind the Awards really well, but the corporate sector is increasingly well represented too.

What kind of documents can you enter?

Virtually any kind of business document or webpage can be entered. And, it’s not just documents — people and organisations are honoured too.

See the Awards categories here

Image: The fabulous Awards trophies created by sculptor Campbell Maud

The fabulous Awards trophies created by sculptor Campbell Maud


You’d be hard pressed to find a plain legal document, wouldn’t you?

Actually, you’d be surprised! Many law firms, including top tier firms and smaller niche firms, are proactively marketing themselves with plain English as part of their brand. The Awards include a dedicated category for legal documents, so watch this space!

What about financial documents? Can they really be clear to the average person?

Many financial organisations — banks and insurance companies especially — enter the Awards with impressively clear documents. In fact, a major bank (ANZ) and several other financial organisations have done especially well in the general categories over the years. We also have a special category for annual reports.

The Awards have a strong focus on excellent communication, but don’t you also expose really bad writing?

Twelve of the thirteen awards honour positive effort and results. The thirteenth ‘trophy’ (really a stainless steel bin filled with sour lollies) goes to the winner of the dreaded ‘Brainstrain’ award. That award goes to the worst document or website nominated by a member of the public. For the unlucky organisation receiving that award, confusion wins!

The Brainstrain award has a very positive side though. Very often, being nominated for a Brainstrain award is a wake-up call for its owner. Many use the nomination as an opportunity to look hard at their communication style and make really positive changes.

The Brainstrain award, along with its counterpart ‘Best Communication’ award, is sponsored very appropriately by public watchdog Consumer NZ. Thanks to Consumer NZ’s support, you can dob in a bad document, or praise an easy-to-read one.

Read about the special People’s Choice categories here

Who’s behind the Awards?

The Awards are offered by the WriteMark Plain English Awards Trust, ably led by chair and well-known people’s advocate Gregory Fortuin. Premier sponsor Write Limited does the administration on behalf of the Trust.

Other valued sponsors provide much appreciated financial and in-kind support.

Do you think the Awards are making a difference?

Absolutely! The process leading to success in the Awards transforms some organisations and individuals into zealous advocates for plain English. We’re due to do another feedback survey early next year, but previous surveys have given us overwhelmingly positive comments from entrants and others. Here are a few of those comments:

The Awards are the premier benchmark for high standards and achievement in plain English. Success in the Awards shows we’re not only doing it [plain English], but doing it well and our expertise is being recognised.

Winning the award has raised the bar.

We were shocked by being a finalist for the Brainstrain Award. That spurred a huge project. I personally did lots of research on plain English and came up with our own web writing standards that exceed the e-government guidelines.

The Awards also act as a public watchdog, highlighting examples of poor writing that are barriers to good communication and people achieving what they want to do.

Image: Who's the clearest of them all?

Who’s the clearest of them all?

Posted In: Communications


More carrot than stick at the 2017 Plain English Awards.

More carrot than stick at the 2017 Plain English Awards. Image by Mali Maeder / CC0 License


Government agencies and commercial firms are again vying for honours in the annual Plain English Awards. Organisations are turning their back on corporate jargon, bureaucratic writing, and legalese.

Now in their 12th year, the Awards have an impressive track record. They encourage New Zealand organisations to favour clarity over complexity and celebrate those who choose to be clear.

The Awards are the premier benchmark for high standards and achievement in plain English. Success in the Awards shows we’re not only doing it [plain English], but doing it well and our expertise is being recognised.

Entries are open until August

Entries are open across nine categories. Awards are available for everything from superb sentence rewrites and document transformations, to recognition for people who campaign for clarity and their projects.

Entries are open now and will close on 31 August 2017.

Choose your category and enter the Awards

 

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Nominate the best and the worst for an award in 2016


We’re mixing it up in 2016 with a different event from previous years. Our major sponsor Write Limited is co-hosting Clarity2016 this year. So we’re focusing on the People’s Choice categories instead of holding the full range of Plain English Awards. Read on for three reasons to get involved.


You’ve always wanted to do something to help banish jargon and gobbledygook

When you nominate a document for the not-so-coveted ‘Brainstrain‘ Award, you’ll be helping to make a positive difference to the way organisations communicate. Almost without exception, organisations step up to ‘take it on the chin’ when nominated for the dreaded bin of sour worm lollies. With the public scrutiny they get from winning the Brainstrain category, they’re motivated to change.


You’ve found a wonderful example of clear communication that you’d like to share with the world

We love to celebrate the great work happening in so many organisations that are improving the way they communicate. Winning the award for People’s Choice Best Plain English Communication is a public pat on the back for New Zealand’s clearest communicators. Help them get the recognition they deserve.


You’ll be helping to promote New Zealand as a country that takes plain language seriously

The People’s Choice Awards will be announced at the international Clarity2016 conference’s gala dinner. Delegates are coming from around the world to this prestigious event, hosted for the first time here in Wellington.

Contact us if you’d like more information

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Who's the clearest of them all?


The Awards celebrated 10 years in 2015. The time seemed right for a fresh new look.

Craig Christensen of Graphic Solutions was keen to help. Craig is a great advocate of clear communication in words and visuals. And he designed the popular theme ‘Who’s the clearest of them all?’ for some of our earlier Awards.

‘Who’s the clearest of them all?’ successfully captured the essence of what the Awards are about. ‘We thought it was time to bring that theme back, but with a new twist’, says Craig. So now those words sit in a speech bubble against a background of editing symbols. The idea is to convey the idea of working hard to create the best and most effective communication.


The simple sentence as a graphic

The gold Awards icon is a simple graphic representation of a sentence. It was inspired by the emergence of icon-based visual language in digital media. The best known of these icons is the ‘hamburger menu’ icon, widely used on mobile websites to show where the navigation menu is kept.

Using gold for the icon signifies the prestige associated with the Awards and helps to bridge the gap between the old and new brands. Adding a deep electric blue to the colour palette adds vibrancy while complementing the gold of the original brand.

We’ve used some good old Kiwi phrases as language-based, companion imagery on the website, conveying the idea of fun Kiwi straightforwardness.


A new era for the Plain English Awards
This bold new identity represents the refreshed face of the Plain English Awards. We hope it’s going to become a very visible and recognisable brand and that it will help to further raise awareness of plain English in New Zealand.

Thanks to The Wright Family Foundation for kindly sponsoring the new website.

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