Plain English Awards

celebrate New Zealand's clearest communicators

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The decisions were tough but our shortlists are out. Photo by Samuel Scrimshaw on Unsplash

We’ve had plenty of positive and productive feedback about this year’s entries, with several judges commenting on how tough their decision-making has been. One judge summed up the dilemma perfectly: ‘This competition is stiff, and we will have to do some real work to sort out the best of the best.’

Take a look at this year’s shortlists

Entries on the shortlists are in no particular order. If we haven’t published a shortlist, it means we can’t let the cat out of the bag just yet. In some categories we had fewer entries that met the judges’ high standard.

Look out for the list of finalists on 19 October.

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One more day to submit entries! Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

We’ve extended cut-off by one day

We’ve had a few enquiries from people confused about our cut-off date for entries. The confusion has been between the end of the month (yesterday) and the end of the week (today). So we’ve extended the cut-off until 6pm today. That’s right folks, you’ve got one whole extra day to get your entries in!

 

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Time to celebrate! Photo by Tessa Rampersad on Unsplash

Why do we hold the annual Plain English Awards? What is it exactly that we’re trying to achieve?

Celebrating individuals and organisations that put the needs of their readers first

Everyone’s talking about it — busy people leading busy lives. Everyday people are regularly expected to read what can be critical information in a variety of mediums. But if the information they’re getting is written or presented in a way that makes it difficult to process, essential messages can get lost or muddled.

The Plain English Awards celebrate individuals and organisations that put the needs of their readers first. The Awards aim to:

  • improve government and business documents so that all New Zealanders can understand them
  • raise public awareness of the need for, and benefits of, plain English
  • create a public preference for organisations that choose to communicate in plain English.

How seemingly small changes can make a big difference

Last year Wellington author and writing trainer Simon Hertnon was a judge in the People’s Choice section of the Plain English Awards. He and his panel members chose the winner of the Best People’s Choice — Best Plain English Communication and the People’s Choice — Worst ‘Brainstrain’ Communication.

Simon shared his impression of the two winning entries in his recent blog post about the critical influence of tone in a formal document. Suitable tone is a key component of any plain English document. And last year’s winner of the Best Plain English Communication Award offered a perfect example of how effective good tone can be. The winner of the Brainstrain Award, however, illustrated the alternative.

‘One winning entry illustrated why the default writing style of business and government — which I would characterise as formal, exhaustive, and impersonal — regularly fails to meet the needs of today’s information-overloaded reader,’ Simon says in his blog post.

‘The other winning entry provided an exemplar for what business and government writers can and should do to improve the quality and usefulness of their writing. That is, to employ a familiar, confident, no-nonsense tone.’

Time to get your entries in for the 2017 Awards

Have you submitted your Awards entries yet? Don’t miss out — enter now

 

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Calling all champions — it's time to enter the Plain English Awards (Image by Nick Youngson (CC BY-SA 3.0))

You definitely don’t want to miss out! Now’s the time to enter the 2017 Plain English Awards. Because who wouldn’t want to be in the running at these prestigious awards?

There’s no need to be shy about entering. Are you worried your content might not be plain enough? That’s a very good sign, because it shows that you care enough to be concerned. You care enough to want to do the best for your reader. You care about clear communication. It shows that you’re a perfectionist — and perfectionists like you are the closet champions we’re looking for.

If you truly care, enter your own or somebody else’s content in this year’s Plain English Awards. The Awards honour those who write plain English.

10 facts about New Zealand’s Plain English Awards

  1. Entries close in 3 weeks, on 31 August 2017.
  2. Most people don’t think they are good enough to enter — so seize the advantage!
  3. No entry has ever been perfect — perfection is not possible.
  4. The judges are impressed by effort, and delighted by every clear document.
  5. The only documents publicly criticised are those in the Brainstrain Award.
  6. You can enter a document, a website — or just a single sentence.
  7. You can enter other people’s work in the People’s Choice category.
  8. The premier prize is worth $5,000.
  9. The Awards have been running for 12 years.
  10. The awards are a not-for-profit event hosted by the WriteMark Plain English Awards Trust.

Enter the Awards here

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Immigration New Zealand is supporting clear communications for new and not-so-new New Zealanders by sponsoring the Best Plain English Turnaround Award in 2017.

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) understands how important it is to use plain English. INZ helps migrants to get established in New Zealand. By providing newcomers with clear information and services, we can help them to successfully settle and contribute to our communities.

Immigration New Zealand is keen to encourage the use of plain English as a common practice in our country.

 

Judi Altinkaya, National Manager, Migrant Settlement explains:

With more than a quarter of New Zealand’s population born abroad, not everyone understands English well. It’s important for people whose jobs involve communications to keep this in mind.

For migrants new to New Zealand, the quality of information they receive as they settle into their new lives here can make all the difference. The more that New Zealand organisations deliver that information effectively, in plain English, the more we can facilitate a smoother settlement process for newcomers.

Immigration New Zealand is keeping it clear

In August 2016, INZ launched Keeping it Clear. This online resource is designed to help organisations present their information more clearly so that it is easily understood by the growing proportion of new migrants in New Zealand.

We think the aim of these resources and the aim of the Plain English Awards are a natural fit!

What’s the Turnaround Award all about?

The Best Plain English Turnaround Award recognises the best rewrite of a document or website that was originally difficult to understand but has been significantly improved by adopting a plain English approach.

The Best Plain English Turnaround Award is open to all forms of communication, whether online, in print, or video.

Entries close on 31 August, with the awards to be announced on at the Awards ceremony on 23 November at the Royal Society of New Zealand’s premises in Wellington.

Thanks, Immigration New Zealand

We couldn’t do it without you!

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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?

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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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Plain English Awards


Have you heard about the People’s Choice — Worst ‘Brainstrain’ Communication award? It’s the sibling of the People’s Choice — Best Communication award. Here are three things you need to know.

1. The Brainstrain award is the one award that organisations don’t really want to win. It reveals, in good humour, the document or website most notable for confusing and dumbfounding its target audience with obscurity and gobbledygook.

2. The ideal entry is a publicly available or widely used document or website that causes problems for many people.

3. By putting these confusing documents and web pages under the spotlight, we hope that the organisations responsible will rewrite them in beautifully plain English. And we’ve had some great turnaround stories prompted by this publicity.

So why not nominate a great or not-so-great document or website for one of the People’s Choice Awards.

Get involved with the People’s Choice Awards

 

Plain English Awards

Plain English Awards

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The fabulous trophy awaiting our winner


Did you miss us? Last year, the Awards took a partial break as major sponsor Write Limited was busy with the international Clarity2016 conference. We celebrated the People’s Choice Best and Brainstrain winners at a gala dinner with conference delegates.

This year we’re back in full force, with all the categories. We’re looking forward to New Zealand organisations getting in behind the Awards as you’ve done since 2006.

We couldn’t do it without our fabulous sponsors. Thanks to your generosity, we’re pretty sure the Awards will be bigger and better than ever in 2017.

2016 Awards

The fabulous trophy awaiting our winner

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Media release: 5 November 2016


People’s Choice awards for the best and worst of business writing were announced at a gala dinner in Wellington, New Zealand on Saturday, 5 November.

The award for the Best Plain English Communication was taken out by well-known economic consultancy firm, the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) ahead of a number of strong contenders. NZIER’s report on international trade and agreements and sovereignty, ISDS and Sovereignty, was judged to be an outstanding example of clarity and reader focus.

The judges, Sue Chetwin of Consumer NZ and plain language experts Simon Hertnon and Ralph Brown, had high praise for the writers: ‘The NZIER report is a breath of fresh air to readers used to struggling through lengthy, jargon-filled advisory documents.

‘We wish this style of advisory writing were the norm rather than the exception. Decision makers across New Zealand would not only be better informed, they would have more time and energy available to think about what to do with the advice they receive.’

Judges also praised the communications nominated for the two other finalists, calling Business.govt.nz’s Employment Agreement Builder ‘an impressive online tool’ and Z Energy’s annual report ‘zesty’ and ‘refreshingly engaging’.

As always, the winner of the dreaded ‘Brainstrain’ Communication award was announced at the ceremony. This award reveals, in good humour, the document most notable for dumbfounding readers with gobbledygook.

A job description produced by the Parliamentary Service was the dubious winner. The judges said the job description was ‘…a classic example of the myth that a verbose and impersonal document is somehow more professional than a concise and engaging one.’

To their credit, the Parliamentary Service took the award on the chin. They issued a response by way of a tongue-in-cheek video, shown to guests at the ceremony, in which they welcomed winning such a ‘prestigious’ award.

It’s not all bad news. Along with the traditional bin filled with sour worms, the winner of the Brainstrain award gets two hours free consultancy with Write Limited to start transforming the offending document, or another like it, into plain English.

The People’s Choice awards, one segment of the usual yearly Plain English Awards, were held this year as part of the Clarity2016 conference, an international gathering of plain language and communications specialists, legal writers, and business people.

Awards founder Lynda Harris says, ‘We’ve seen the Awards shift attitudes and expectations about communication in the business, professional, and public sectors. Organisations recognise that plain language is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s crucial to their success.’

The full Plain English Awards programme will resume in 2017.

 

END

 

Get more information:

www.plainenglishawards.org.nz

Lynda Harris, founder of the WriteMark Plain English Awards, Lynda@write.co.nz and 021 404990

Gregory Fortuin, Chair of the WriteMark Plain English Awards Trust, 021 465 254

www.clarity2016.org

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