Brushing up on the plain English essentials


As public sector agencies increasingly embrace plain English, staff at all levels will need to refresh their writing skills. But what is the best way for an individual to tackle the task?

Despite the bad press they get, public servants, on the whole, can actually write. It’s just that from the moment we start drafting briefing notes, submissions or correspondence, we learn and absorb that complex officialese style. As a result, we are more inclined to “undertake a review in relation to policy objectives” than simply “review a policy”.

Now agencies are waking up to the benefits of plain English, and they are mandating clear, crisp, meaningful and expressive communication. Suddenly staff are expected to radically revise what used to be the norm.

But where do you start? And what exactly are the essentials elements of plain English?

Revisit your style guide

A good place to begin is your organisation’s style guide. Did you know you had one?

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  • John Boyd

    Good grief! Have we made no progress since, for example, around 1985 when Barry Jones required every senior officer to have a copy of Strunk and White on their desk.

  • David Turnbull

    Great, but why do people still use ‘commence’ instead of ‘start’ or ‘begin’…..?