Lynda Harris | October 10, 2023
Lynda Harris is an internationally recognised plain language leader and author. She’s the creator of the Rewrite for Change™ Model, author of Rewrite, and founder of the WriteMark Plain Language Awards.
In September 2015, Lynda was awarded the Mowat Plain Language Achievement Award ― an international award recognising an outstanding contribution to advancing the cause of plain language. It’s safe to say that Lynda knows her stuff!
Now with the passing of the Plain Language Act 2022 in Aotearoa, Lynda has developed a course especially for Plain Language Officers (PLOs) and their helpers. Based on decades of experience, the course teaches her proven framework, tools, and a step-by-step plan to embed a plain language culture across your organisation — it’s the ultimate masterclass for PLOs.
Lynda shares her top tips for Plain Language Officers below.
It’s clear that Plain Language Officers have their work cut out for them. If we’ve been reminded of anything over the last few months of training PLOs, it’s that the task of creating a plain language culture change is enormous.
Many of our Plain Language Officers are already incredibly busy with their existing roles. Now they’re juggling their PLO duties on top of that. All are new to the PLO role, and all are time-poor. Where do you go to get training and support for a role that didn’t exist before, let alone find the time to do the actual work?
Luckily, this is exactly what we’ve been helping organisations do for decades! We’ve worked with hundreds of organisations, including public sector agencies, to successfully transform the way their people write.
Despite the challenges, I feel optimistic about the impact of the Act. Things are happening more slowly than we had anticipated, but they are happening! The Act is creating many more conversations about plain language and raising awareness and expectations across the public sector. As a bonus, we know of many private sector companies that are well aware of the Act and want to adopt a ‘best practice’ approach themselves.
Ultimately, I’d say the Act has far-reaching benefits for all who live and work in New Zealand. These include better access to information, a more human face to government, and significant savings and efficiencies. For now, we’re seeing a very positive shift and it’s all to the good.
That’s all very well, but as a Plain Language Officer you’re probably asking, ‘Where do I start?’ Here are my top seven tips for you.
My number one piece of advice is to agree on a standard for your organisation. Help everyone in your organisation recognise what ‘plain’ looks like by adopting a plain language standard. A standard gives you a common understanding of what good looks like and a common language to talk about how to improve if needed.
The Public Service Commission’s guidance suggests the Write Plain Language Standard as an example of an internal tool to help agencies comply with the Plain Language Act. It’s a free checklist to help your people assess whether their writing meets plain language criteria. You can use it as it is for free or adapt it to your needs under a Creative Commons licence.
As with any big project, you’ll need an action plan. Your plan should outline what outcomes you need to achieve, the tasks involved, and who will do them. You’ll need a project timeline and a budget too. Preparing a good project plan gives you a clear path to success.
A project plan is your key to success but probably sounds a little daunting. That’s where our specialist course for PLOs — the Plain Language Action Plan — supports you all the way to create a project plan for rolling out plain language across your organisation. The course is inspiring and practical. You’ll get loads of practical advice that’s based on a proven methodology and the experience of other organisations.
You’ll learn about the Rewrite for Change™ Model on the course. With the Write Plain Language Standard at its heart, the Model provides an actionable framework for effective and sustainable change. I love introducing the Model, as PLOs are so pleased to discover an approach that’s proven, actionable, and doable.
It’s a great course for Plain Language Officers, providing all you need to develop a clear and actionable project plan and lots of practical tools and resources to help you stay on course.
Anika Forsman, Te Ara Ahunga Ora Retirement Commission
A Plain Language Officer can’t do the job alone — and they shouldn’t. If the goal is to create a culture of plain language across their organisation, a PLO needs a team of champions as well as all managers on board. We spend quite a bit of time during the Plain Language Action Plan course on how to gather a project team and get manager buy-in.
Plain language champions are staff members who get extra training to help workmates write in plain language. They don’t edit work. Instead they advise and inspire. They’ll take some of your load and help make plain language a reality.
Natural champions are easy to identify. They know why plain language is important and always do their best to write clearly. They’re already excited about the Act!
You might think that the requirements of the Act would mean plain language is finally getting the backing it deserves in every public sector organisation. That was certainly our assumption. Happily, many Plain Language Officers have got the backing of their Chief Executive and senior leadership teams. But we know that quite a few are still having to make the case for plain language.
Getting buy-in is a significant part of your plain language project. Even in organisations completely committed to a culture change, you’ll meet resistance. Most people don’t like being told they have to do things differently. It’s human nature. We like doing what we’ve always done — it’s usually safe and comfortable, and just plain easier.
Overcoming resistance is one of the most popular discussion topics in our PLO course. And we spend a decent amount of time covering it. Hearing people’s novel ideas and small or large wins has been very inspiring.
We also involve a guest speaker in this session — Dr Dawn-Marie Turner, a change management expert based in Canada. Dawn-Marie guides us through her change methodology called the Readiness Mindset™.
Rewrite positions effective writing as a strategic tool to greatly improve the performance of an organisation, or a team. It’s a super-practical and inspiring read and is intended to be a blueprint for success.
When I wrote Rewrite a few years back, I knew that it had tremendous potential to change organisations. At that time, everything depended on finding passionate and persuasive people to be the champions of change. In 2023, the PLOs we’ve talked to are those people! They are in almost all public sector agencies and now they have the weight of the Act behind them. Rewrite is an invaluable tool for every PLO to achieve both the requirements and intent of the Act.
Take heart in knowing you’re not alone! Connect with fellow PLOs from across the public sector. Join our online meetups to share ideas, troubleshoot, and inspire each other. We’ve had some great discussions so far on topics like how to get buy-in from senior leaders, how to deal with technical and legal language, and how to set up the feedback page on your website.
Remember the team at Write Limited is here to help! We have a large and experienced consultant team who’ve all worked with organisations ready to make the change to plain language — whether at the organisation level or on a smaller scale by improving content in public-facing documents and web content.
I created the Plain Language Action Plan course to take all the guesswork out of your plain language project. We give you the framework, resources, and ideas — we even walk you through creating your project plan using our template designed specially for the Plain Language Act. It’s the ‘everything you need’ step-by-step guide for Plain Language Officers to meet the requirements of the Act.
It’s been wonderful to hear feedback on the course from PLOs that they feel better equipped and even more enthusiastic about tackling their culture change projects.
I had no idea where to start and now I have a clear path.
Lisa Warden, Fire and Emergency New Zealand
Everyone so far has been highly invested in their PLO role and has engaged in the programme in a really thoughtful way. Their enthusiasm and commitment (even to the homework between sessions!) has made every session so successful.
I’m so happy to say that most PLOs appear undaunted in their determination to report positively to the Public Service Commission on progress at their place. That’s a wonderful result!
If you’re a Plain Language Officer — or you’re on the project team — we’d love to have you join us on our last course of the year. We have just a few spaces left, so get in quick!
This programme is definitely worthwhile for someone who hasn’t had a chance to start, or doesn’t know where to start, on creating a plain language culture shift and action plan for their organisation.
Steph Prince, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency