The Plain Language Mandate: Communicating for Clarity

Sep 19, 2022

For those who communicate for a living, creating a gloriously complex sentence full of large words can be immensely satisfying. But is your audience impressed or just confused?

This week, the New Zealand parliament will consider a “Plain Language Bill” to require a level of clarity in government documents. The bill requires government agencies to “use language that is (a) appropriate to the intended audience; and (b) clear, concise, and well organised.”

This will help people with English as a second language as well as the disabled or disadvantaged to have the same access to information as everyone else. The US implemented a similar ruling more than ten years ago.

How appropriate is the communication style in your organisation? Is your intranet full of unnecessary words? Are you asking people to verify their project categorisation entries before the required submission date or to complete their timesheets on time?

Corporate culture is awash with jargon and buzzwords. We all do it because we want to look clever in front of the boss/client/attractive receptionist. But especially in industries with many non-native English speakers, using complex language will waste time, cause frustration and potentially result in safety issues if instructions or warnings are not clear. People might find intranet posts frustrating and stop engaging with the platform altogether.

It can be difficult to find the most appropriate communication style for a diverse audience and it’s often best to just keep everything as simple as possible.

Here are some ideas to communicate with clarity in your intranet and elsewhere:

1) Remove tautologies

If authors prioritise length over quality or simply can’t choose a word, repetition impacts clarity. For example:

  • consolidating into a single channel
  • time consuming and slow
  • geographically located

“Examine every word you put on paper. You’ll find a surprising number that don’t serve any purpose.”
― William Zinsser

2) Use active voice

Active voice is easier to understand and generally uses fewer words.

  • If a potential danger is identified > if you identify a potential danger
  • enable your staff to be well equipped > equip your staf
  • Our software is proven to be effective for financial institutions > we develop software for financial institutions.

3) Verbs not nouns

Using nouns in the place of verbs requires more surrounding words to make sense:

  • Helping with the identification > helping to identify
  • He should indicate his agreement > he should agree
  • There is a need for clarification of the rules > we must clarify the rules

4) Use the shortest form of a word or phrase

Why say ‘utilise’ instead of ‘use’? Why say ‘conceptualisation’ if you mean ‘concept’? Is it functionality or is it a function?

  • Try ‘However’ instead of ‘On the other hand’
  • “Consider” in place of “put thought into”
  • Use “several” rather than “a number of”, or “many” as opposed to “a great deal of “
  • “ing” = are needing, are wanting, are finding” > need, want, find.

5) Ruthless editing

Challenge yourself to reduce every paragraph by 30%. You can do it! The following words are almost never helpful and can be cut with no loss of meaning:

  • the process of
  • across the organisation / in the organisation
  • “To” = When it comes to / In order to / to be undertaken to / to enable staff to
  • “of the” =

The leadership of the organisation > the organisation leadership

All employees of the IT department > IT department employees

Writing for audience comprehension need not be dull. Concise, meaningful sentences are satisfying – remember it’s not about the words you use but the impact they have on the reader.

Your message will be clear and your audience will appreciate it.

“Brevity is the soul of wit.”

Need communications that cut though?

Injio intranet provides the perfect platform for your corporate communications: a central source of truth with targeted messaging delivered via a clean, modern interface on any device.

Get in touch for a demo!

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