Win some, lose some: Plain English triumphs and tribulations

This week is New Zealand's unofficial plain language week. On Thursday we'll celebrate the winners of the Writemark Plain English Awards, 2014. Top prize is for promoting clear communication throughout an entire organisation. That's not an easy job. 

Elsewhere, gobbledygook from government agencies continues to gush. The wells of snake oil never run dry. Here's an example: I wish it was a rare exception, but it's just same old same old.

The Te Papa Board is faced with considerable challenges over the near term, as it reconciles a necessary period of fiscal consolidation with the need for significant capital investment in the museum infrastructure, and a desire to share more of the national heritage and scientific collections with the nation. These challenges are accentuated in the short term, as the museum goes through a period of capability rebuilding following its recent organisational realignment.

Briefing to the Incoming Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, October 2014

The above passage has a Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease score of 11.7.

What does that score mean? It means only people with a university degree have a hope of reading and understanding the passage easily. That's about 11.7% of the population. 

For those not so blessed, or those who recoil at the very sight of that wall of long words, let me translate.

We have to save money, fix the buildings and IT systems, and have an exhibition or two. We have to retrain some new staff because we fired some old staff. And gee, it's tough.

 2014 WriteMark New Zealand Plain English Awards

Rachel McAlpine
Rachel McAlpine


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