The federal government has launched its first style manual in nearly two decades.
The Digital Transformation Agency on Thursday released the guide in Beta, with the hope that the public would provide feedback ahead of its official launch later this year.
The new version must be “fit for the digital age” to make government communication simple, clear and consistent, according to the DTA.
The agency has previously said that it would be including a section on inclusive language in the updated guide, as language “can both create and prevent discrimination”.
That section has been made available on the Beta version. It advises public servants to use gender-neutral language if the user’s preferred pronoun is unknown, and to only refer to age or disability if it’s “relevant and necessary”.
The guide also explains how to use culturally appropriate and respectful language when writing with, for or about First Nations Australians.
For example, it informs public servants of the difference between a Welcome to Country and an Acknowledgement of Country, and presents ways to redress the historical erasure of First Australians.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have always been here. They are still undertaking cultural activities. Be conscious of this and work to change the habit,” the guide notes.
The use of plain language with short, simple sentences and active voice is also encouraged in the new manual, as “plain language helps everyone”.
Public servants are discouraged from using jargon, and words and phrases like “create a dialogue” and “leverage”. They should instead use the simple versions, like “speak” and “use”.
The way writing is structured can also make it easier or harder for people to understand content, depending on the type and purpose of the publication and the user’s literacy level.
Social media didn’t exist when the most recent version of the manual was released in 2002. That version can only be purchased in book format — which the DTA says is quite difficult to track down.
Today, social media is entrenched in the daily lives of many Australians. The new guide notes that a range of social media platforms can be used by public service agencies to help people find information about government services and policy, and can encourage people to connect with an agency or participate in events, among other things.
All of the new additions to the guide are based on DTA research which has found people need the manual to be contemporary, comprehensive, evidence-based, authoritative, and easy to use and access.
The DTA has worked with Ethos CRS to write the manual, with help from accredited editors, the Australian National Dictionary Centre, and experts on topics including accessibility and inclusive language.
The public can leave feedback at stylemanual.gov.au using the form located at the bottom of every section.