The cockroach of language styles

Dead cockroaches from robbaker.org.
Why does gobbedygook live on and on, generation after generation?

It refuses to die a natural death. Bureaucratic style persists even though the benefits of plain English have been proven again and again. (Plain English saves money and time — what more do you want?)

Firstly, some government writers resist what they call dumbing down their information. They’d rather seem important than be clear. Assumption: if the reader can’t understand, that’s the reader's fault.

Secondly, bad style revolves in a vicious circle. Regardless of any style guide, government employees naturally imitate documents that are wordy, obscure, and riddled with jargon and clichés.

Thirdly, when only a few staff are trained in plain English, it doesn’t take. Untrained colleagues can undo all the good work. Commitment from the CEO is essential.

And that's why we need legislation making plain English mandatory for government communications. Killing the cockroach requires more than a quick stamp with a big boot.

But you know, it's not all bad. Many government agencies are making a strenuous effort to communicate more clearly. For example, check the note headed Glossary bottom right on some of the NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade web pages— I think they mean it!
See Glossary notice on this MFAT page (bottom right)


Rachel McAlpine
Rachel McAlpine

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