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Wordsmiths take the pith(y) at Plain English awards

Eliminate adjectives. Shorten sentences. Spellcheck. Proofread. Winners kept it short and tight last night as the thirteenth annual Plain English Awards went going, going, gong at City Gallery Wellington.

By Mark Cubey

“All hail Justin.” The Mayor showed up, as he always does (election 2019 started a few months back). He was introduced by largely acclaimed Master of Ceremonies James Elliott (above) at the awards ceremony at City Gallery with relevance: the Plain English Awards, for non-obfuscutory, clearly delineated, shot to the heart communications.

Ironically, the embargoed results PR release was reissued by email more than once (minor spelling mistakes), which speaks to the organisation’s passion for accurate communication.

The big winner, Plain English Champion — Best Individual or Team, was again awarded to the Better Letters Project team at the Ministry of Social Development, which also won the award for Best Sentence Transformation.

The Best Plain English Document in the private sector went to JUNO Investing Magazine for its KiwiSaver Scheme guide.

The Best Plain English Website awards went to the Auckland Council for the public sector and Xero in the private sector.

Best Plain English Turnaround award went to Infinite Possibilities Limited for its client relationship agreement, while local PR heroes Draper Cormack Group took out the Best Legal Document award for its Terms and Conditions.

The people also spoke, in public entries for two categories: best and worst in government and corporate communications

The Commission for Financial Capability won the Best Communication award for its document Thinking of Living in a Retirement Village, with the judges saying, ”This document breaks down highly complex, life-changing information into accessible chunks that the average New Zealander can easily absorb…  an outstanding communication that meets a pressing public need.”

The People’s Choice Worst ‘Brainstrain’ award went to the Companies Office, who received a could-do-better award for its document Companies Office Societies and Trusts Online.

The person who nominated the document said, “As an office bearer in a small incorporated society, I have to file an annual return. If I get it wrong, my society may be struck off the incorporated societies register. One year I missed a small tick box placed within a line of text and several months later my organisation got a letter threatening to strike it off. It took a long time to work out what had been done wrong! Things are no better this year.”

The judges said, “This form illustrates why structure and design are crucial parts of plain English communication. Although the form does not force its readers to sift through large amounts of complex text, it is still hard to use due to the disorganised and visually unappealing way it presents its information.”

Everyone has twelve months to do better, starting now.

See the full list of winners and finalists at