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?

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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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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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Meredith Evans with sponsor Emma Harding (TechCommNZ)


It’s not the winning that counts, but taking part, according to the WriteMark Best Plain English Technical Communicator for 2015, Meredith Evans.

The Applications Analyst for Synlait Milk recently picked up the award at a ceremony celebrating the winners and finalists for the WriteMark Plain English Awards 2015 held at the Wellington City Gallery.

It was the second time she’s taken home the accolade (she also won the award in 2010). But while the sheen will never come off being recognised at a national level, Meredith says the greatest value from the experience is always the feedback you get from the judges.

And you don’t have to be a winner to receive that feedback.

“I was pretty stoked by the win because I wasn’t expecting to win at all. But to be honest I would have been pretty gutted if I hadn’t been shortlisted as a finalist,” she says. “If you’re shortlisted you get heaps of valuable feedback from the judges on your sample work that would be hard to find anywhere else. For that fact alone, I’d say if you’ve ever thought about it – just give it a crack. You never know what might happen.”

Meredith’s role at Synlait sees her work across a variety of training and documentation projects, a fact that was reflected in the diversity of the samples she sent in as part of her entry into this year’s awards.

Her entrance portfolio included material for software procedures, instructions for using Synlait’s new phone systems, and guidelines for saving files on Synlait’s network, with the samples displaying single-sourcing for multiple platforms.

“I think the judges liked the structuring, navigation, active voice – basically all the stuff we all know as technical communicators. But I think the variety of work helped as well, and I guess I’m lucky in that respect.”

 

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