It’s time to unwrap plain language for everyone

Jayne Dalmer | March 31, 2023

Do you remember that feeling before a birthday party when you were little? Brimming with anticipation, knowing that there’ll be presents, and cake, and good people to enjoy it all with.

We’re excited to have a reason to celebrate — and we hope you are too. The Plain Language Act is here, and the best thing is… this present is designed to be shared.

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Childhood birthday parties were the best. Image by Vlada Karpovich / Pexels licence

It’s the thought that counts — giving people the information they need

The Plain Language Act 2022 comes into force in April 2023. The purpose of the Act is to improve the effectiveness and accountability of government agencies, and to improve the accessibility of documents.

The Act requires plain language in government documents and websites written for the general public. In this case, ‘plain language’ means language that is:

To meet the requirements of the Act, government agencies will have to measure and report on whether their documents and websites use plain language. They’ll also have to make sure they comply with the Act, and ensure that staff are trained to write clearly and concisely.

The Act applies to English-language government documents, websites, and forms. This includes documents that:

Reporting agencies are free to use te reo Māori and other languages in any relevant document.

Read the Plain Language Act on the Parliamentary Counsel Office website

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New Zealand’s Parliament Buildings (Wellington). Image by Koon Chakhatrakan / Unsplash licence

This gift will keep on giving

The great thing about this Act is that the legislation will make life better for all New Zealanders — including new New Zealanders. The Plain Language Act 2022 could be one of the most influential, far-reaching, and beneficial Acts ever passed in New Zealand. Implemented well, the Act can benefit all who live and work in New Zealand.

As long-time practitioners and advocates for plain language, we feel the Act offers opportunity far beyond the obvious benefits of compliance for ‘relevant documents’. The spirit and intent of the Act offer goody bags for us all.

When everyone in government agencies works to a clear set of expectations, people get consistent information that they can understand and act on. People are released from feeling it’s their fault if they don’t understand something. They’re more likely to confidently trust and interact with government agencies for the important things in life, like finding employment, housing, or healthcare.

Increased efficiency is the cherry on top

As well as these good things, public services have an opportunity to get far more value from the millions of dollars invested in writing. Expecting plain language drives efficiency and optimal ways of working across the public sector — resulting in sharper briefs, reduced drafting, and clearer, more concise outputs.

The Act also offers public servants the opportunity to demonstrate Te Hāpai Hapori, The Spirit of Service. Writing clearly and concisely  becomes less about compliance and more about the values of interconnectedness, equity, and care for people.

Read about the Spirit of Service on the Public Service Commission website

We’re looking forward to sharing more

An organisation’s writing culture can help it succeed — or hold it back. At Write, we’ve been helping clients make their written messages clear, concise, and well organised for over 30 years. We work with government agencies, companies of all sizes, NGOs, and not-for-profit organisations.

We have evidence of the link between an organisation’s writing style and its success. And we’ve developed expert approaches that help our clients change their writing culture for the better.

The spirit of the Act needs people to think and act differently. It takes a change in organisational thinking — a culture change of sorts — to achieve that new mindset. From Write’s experience in supporting New Zealand organisations to embed a new writing culture, we know how important it is to connect writing quality to an organisation’s values and purpose. Adopting an agreed standard, benchmarking, training, supporting, and measuring progress are all vital. As are the qualities of enthusiasm and shared responsibility for success.

A good plan makes all the difference

Any good party planner knows that success is about preparing and being able to connect people with what they need.

We’re a one-stop shop for all the support you need so you are ready when the Plain Language Act comes into force. Our workshops and coaching will ensure everyone in your workplace understands what clear, concise, and well-organised writing looks like, and how to put readers at the centre of every communication. We can support staff with tools, resources, and tested processes so they feel  confident about the new expectations.

If you’re planning for the long term, we can confirm what works and support you through a whole culture change programme for the way your people write. We can also look at what you already produce and let you know if you’re meeting the plain language standard, or suggest how you might get there.

If you need to get something published quickly, we can write, edit, and proofread it for you.

We make millions of words work harder every year. We value helping New Zealanders across the motu to get the information they need. Our people are trusted advisors, writers, editors, plain-language trainers and coaches, and experts on the techniques and real-world benefits of plain language — just who you need at all your parties.

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Plain language is the icing on the cake. Image by Alexander Grey / Pexels licence

Bonus reading and helpful training

Read Write’s blog post on the proposed Bill in 2021.
Write’s submission on the Plain Language Bill

If you need help writing for readers in plain language, we can support you through consulting, coaching, training — or doing the writing and editing for you.
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