The Plain Language Act: one answer to rule them all!

Lynda Harris | September 20, 2023

Photo of Wellington Cable car and cityscape.

One answer rules all questions about the Plain Language Act 2022. Image by Guillaume Lebelt / Unsplash Licence

We love questions. Easy ones, curly ones, really-make-you-think ones. So of course, we welcome questions about the Plain Language Act 2022. And we’ve had a lot! On workshops, in webinars and Q&A sessions, on the Plain Language Action Plan workshop, at the PLO Network meet-ups, and in everyday conversations.

Usually, we can turn to the Act itself and the Public Service Commissioner’s guidance to find explicit answers. But those two documents can’t cover every possible question or circumstance, and nor should they.

So how do you answer questions like:

Does the Act apply to my very technical document, which includes maps?

Does a large group of landowners who’ve opted to receive feedback from a consultation process constitute ‘members of the public’?

What defines substantial revision of a document?

Debate and discuss, or keep it simple

For these, or any of the other questions that cause debate, you may choose to discuss and find a consensus — but that’s often easier said than done!

Generally, if the question is tricky enough to cause debate, we search for a principle — a simple foundational idea that will guide a sound decision. In this case, we can find that principle in the spirit or intent of the Act.

Plain language, with its focus on the reader (and clarity and effectiveness), is a good thing — so good that a requirement to use it is embodied in an Act of Parliament, and in many other official documents of our country.

So why would you look for reasons to avoid communicating in the very best way possible?

In our view, the Act sets out minimum expectations for documents written for the public. But the wording in the purpose of the Act, along with the Public Service Commission’s guidance to ‘Consider plain language as part of internal processes’, and Te Hāpai Hapori, the Spirit of Service encourage much more.

Got questions about the Act? Here’s your one answer to rule them all: ‘When in doubt, make it plain anyway!’

Plain Language Act 2022

Plain Language Act 2022: Guidance for agencies

Learn more about how to meet the requirements of the Plain Language Act

Join the Plain Language Action Plan workshop

Get some tips and techniques for technical writing under the Plain Language Act

Talk to us today

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