New gov style manual shows public servants how to use social media for service delivery

By Shannon Jenkins

Thursday November 28, 2019

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The federal government’s guide for writing and editing is on track for its 2020 digital release with a set of new topics better suited to modern service delivery.

The current manual was last updated in 2002, and can only be purchased in the old-school book format.

User research conducted by the Digital Transformation Agency has found that the rules have become outdated, readers need guidance on digital, and, frankly, the elusive hard copy is difficult to find. The DTA plans on fixing this, by including new topics suited to the current day and age in an accessible digital edition.

It argues social media — which wasn’t around when the last version was released but has become entrenched in daily life — presents opportunities and challenges for government. The updated guidance will help agencies plan and take part in social media.

Similarly, search engines are now regularly used by the public to find government services. However, government websites are often complex to navigate, the DTA notes, and so content writers must be skilled in meeting people’s search intentions. The new manual will encourage users to “write for people”.

READ MORE: New data analysis product could help agencies design better services

A section on inclusive language has also been added to the updated manual, as language “can both create and prevent discrimination”, the DTA says.

The agency has worked with specialists from government and community groups to inform the new edition, which includes information on age diversity, cultural and linguistic diversity, gender and sexual diversity, and people with disability.

The new content has been released to private beta, meaning users with a email address can now access the draft style manual to see what the DTA has been working on. Private beta is when the work-in-progress version of a digital product is made available to a small group of users to get their feedback. The DTA plans to broaden access to beta as it releases more content, with the final beta release in 2020 being public.

Those with a government email can sign up to the mailing list to get access to private beta.

The DTA engaged Canberra-based communications company Ethos CRS to begin working on the digital version in July.

Ethos CEO Chas Savage said the organisation aimed to set a new authoritative standard while providing comprehensive advice on whole-of-government standards and publishing requirements.

“It is important because clear writing by government is important,” he said.

“People should be able to understand their rights and responsibilities, how they can access services and how they can meet obligations. Our objective is to make documents clearer and the lives of readers easier.”

The first style manual was published in 1966.

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