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Plain English - making information available and usable

Here at we believe the information MUST be available, findable and usable - read the full article.

A lot of people will take those three tenants of good information and then apply technology to solve issues they may have - publish in many file formats to make the information available, install search to make it findable and attach workflow to try and make it usable.

Technology is part of the answer but not all of the answer.
Another part is to review and reframe the information itself.

An exercise for you to do right now.
Find a policy on your intranet ... got it, excellent. Now, ask yourself these questions:
  • What words are jargon and how overwhelming is it?
  • Does the layout enable skim reading?
  • Are there indicators of who should read each part?
  • What assumptions are made?
  • Does it indicate (and even link to) supporting information?
  • Are there real people referenced for questions not answered?
  • Is this using the language of the reader?
  • Are there different versions aimed at different audiences/uses?
  • Is the content aimed at real life situations?
  • Is there white space?
  • Is there use of colours, diagrams and even video/sound?
The answers to these questions will hint out how the information itself can be re-framed and thus make it much more available, findable and usable.

Of course, not all content is in need of CPR and maybe you found a policy and thought, damn this is so easy to read - it's in your language, doesn't make assumptions, avoids jargon and has a layout to behold. If so, then you should be applying for the 2008 WriteMark New Zealand Plain English Awards:
Kevin Milne (of Fair Go) will host the awards at a gala dinner on Thursday, 11 September at Shed 5 on Wellington’s waterfront.

Entries close 28 July 2008.
You can submit entries for the following awards.

Category 1: Plain English Champion
  • Best Organisation
  • Best Project
  • Best Individual

Category 2: Best Plain English Document

  • Public Sector / Non-Government Organisation (NGO)
  • Private Sector
Category 3: Best Plain English Website

Category 4: Best Sentence Transformation

Category 5: People’s Choice
  • Best Plain English Document
  • Best Plain English Website
  • ‘Brainstrain’ Document
  • ‘Brainstrain’ Website

If you're in need of assistance with your chosen policy then may I point you in the direction of Contented with Rachel McAlpine and Alice Hearnshaw who will assist you and your content away from the wanky business speak (my phrase, not theirs) and onto the intranet/internet with pride.