ATO workers told their letters are too boring - by the Commissioner

‘Have you ever received a letter that didn't seem like it was meant for you? And you didn't understand what you were supposed to do? Or one that looked so long and uninteresting that you just ignored it entirely? That's how the community feels about some of our correspondence,’ ATO Commissioner Chris Jordan told 20,000 employees in his regular newsletter.

Mr Jordan has been at the helm of a major overhaul of the office’s dealings with Australian taxpayers. The office has improved its debt letters with colour coding, clear requests for action and plain language, and plans to extend these improvements to all its correspondence.

The ATO sends over 60 million letters a year.

November 2015
Source: The Canberra Times

Bank criticised for not using plain English

Clydesdale Bank, a subsidiary of NAB, landed in hot water this year when a UK parliamentary committee found it had not clearly communicated the costs and risks of some of its products. 

The committee investigated allegations that the bank sold high risk ‘tailored business loans’ to unsuspecting small business customers. The bank later admitted that the terms and conditions attached to these complex products ‘would not pass a plain English test’.

March 2015
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

Parents to get say on plain English report cards

ACT Education Minister Joy Burch wants school reports to be written in plain English. ‘I believe parents want consistency across the system, no matter what year level their child is at. And I think plain English is always preferable in any circumstance,’ she said.

Ms Burch believes the use of standardised A to E gradings for students from years 1–10, along with plain English teacher comments, will ‘raise the bar’ on school reports in the territory. The new report card policy and templates are open for public consultation until 15 May. 

March 2015
Source: The Canberra Times

ADVOs to be rewritten in plain English

From 2016, offenders who breach their apprehended domestic violence orders (ADVOs) in NSW won’t be able to claim they didn’t understand the language or the consequences of not complying. In an effort to protect victims and save police and court time, ADVOs will be written in plain English.

The director of the Women's Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service said some offenders are illiterate, have intellectual disabilities or don’t speak English as a first language. ‘We do hear a lot of people saying they don't understand the legal language or the magistrate, so being able to offer something in plain English is really important,’ she said.

A readability test showed readers need a university-level education to understand a current ADVO. Plain English ADVOs will use language that a 13-year-old could understand.  

November 2015
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

Spotify cleans up privacy mess with plain language policy update

Music streaming service Spotify angered users when it made sweeping and invasive changes to its privacy policy without explanation.

CEO Daniel Ek later apologised and explained in plain English how Spotify would use information like users’ photos, location data and contacts. The company also explained its approach to privacy in a blog post and a plain language introduction to the policy.

‘We did our best to explain the intent behind the changes in the Policy and our commitment to our users’ privacy,’ Ek said. ‘We took note of many people’s comments that they appreciated the clear commitments in the blog post that were easier to understand than some of the details in the Policy itself.’

September 2015
Source: PC World

Cartoon from Modern Manglish, a book by Neil James and Harold Scruby

© Alan Moir

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  Conquering the e-future

As we embrace the e-future, many web writers are still tied to traditional forms of communication. For those who are used to creating files in MS Word for print, the online world can be bewildering.

The challenge

When faced with a blur of metadata and HTML, it is tempting to simply import a paper-based document as a web page and hope for the best. But how will your readers respond?

Many of our government clients have faced this question recently. One, a major department in Canberra, decided to merge 3 key sites for community services. Its readers spanned the breadth of Australian society, with their online needs ranging from information about medicine to crisis payments.

The response

We stepped in to support the web team with a tailored training program. Our Communication Writing Baseline workshop set the ground rules, which the advanced Writing for the Web workshop cemented. At the same time, a series of editorial reviews helped to refine the main web templates and writing guides.

We certified the new website as meeting our plain English benchmarks, and it has now met best practice 4 years in a row.