Plain English accreditation for your organisation and documents
There are two types of accreditation you can have. You can opt to be accredited as an organisation and display our committed to plain English logo. Or you can get your documents and web pages accredited as you produce them, and display our plain English approved logo on them.
The committed to plain English logo
This logo is ideal for organisations that are committed to using plain English but perhaps don't find it realistic to get all their documents or web pages approved. After all, so many documents are produced as web pages now, and pages appear and change all the time.
You can display the logo on your website and other documents so that people know you are committed to communicating with them in a clear and straightforward way. Click the logo to find out more, or call 0114 257 1400 and ask for Dave Fox.
The plain English approved logo
Our plain English approved logo tells your readers at a glance that your documents will be easy to read and understand. You can display the logo on any document, web page or website, once we have approved it for plain English. People are much more likely to start reading a document if they know it is going to be in plain English. Click the logo to find out more, or call 0114 257 1400 and ask for Dave Fox.
© The Word Centre
So you think you are a 'plain English' organisation . . ?
. . . by Dave Fox, Senior Partner at the Word Centre
These days it's hard to find a large organisation, or almost any type of public-sector one, that doesn't say it's committed to using plain English. This is true to the point where many organisations now take their use of plain English for granted, without making sure that their documents and people are actually living up to this standard.
So how can you test whether you really are a 'plain English' organisation, rather than one that just thinks it is?
Here are some questions to ask yourself, and some standards/achievements to look for.
What would an organisation that effectively used plain English be like?
A plain English organisation probably wouldn't make a big fuss about it. Plain English would be 'simply the way we do things round here'.
The use of plain English wouldn't stand out any more than the carpets, office furniture or PCs did. But like any of those things you'd notice if it was missing. So communications that weren't plain would stand out like a sore thumb.
How can you recognise a plain English organisation?
You'd only be able to recognise a truly plain English organisation from the inside.
A lot of organisations make a big fuss about using plain English. But you can't really judge if this is genuine unless you can talk to their people and see all the documents they produce, including internal ones. Certainly mainstream external communications may be clear – website, leaflets, public reports and so on. But that's just the tip of the iceberg – what about emails, standard letters, staff instructions, the 'small print' in its contracts?
So, within your organisation, you need to have systems that make sure everyone uses plain English and that no documents slip through the net.
Today, you'd rightly expect any organisation you worked for to be an equal opportunities employer, particularly in the areas of recruitment, pay, promotion, training and so on. You'd also expect the organisation to be a safe place to work in. You can probably take all this for granted because there are systems in place to make sure people are aware of the relevant laws and that they follow good practice. It's no good just being committed to these values. Without systems you can't be sure they will be put into practice everywhere in the organisation.
So you need to have systems – simply to make sure the organisation delivers what it intends to. Without them you'll have little enclaves where plain English just doesn't happen. This might be because some people haven't bought into the idea, or simply because people think they are using plain English but aren't.
The systems would take care of three things:
- standards (what we mean by 'plain English')
- documents (how they are produced and managed)
- people (how they are trained and coached).
When people write they should use:
- everyday words
- short sentences
- a personal tone, which respects the reader
- active verbs.
Documents are treated as 'products', and they are:
- specified carefully
- created to the specification
- updated and amended only via a change-control process
- quality assured (including being tested on the intended audience)
- 'fit for purpose'.
- people are trained and coached
- managers are responsible for their staff's writing
- the use of plain English is part of performance appraisal
- there is a culture of constructive criticism.
Senior managers must:
- lead by example
- publicise successes internally
- encourage internal competition to help produce the best documents possible.
Systems are essential but there's no substitute for caring about your readers and the impact your documents have on their lives. So you need to win writers and their managers over, and recruit people with the right beliefs and attitudes.
What kind of wider culture and values would a plain English organisation have?
A commitment to plain English will not exist in isolation. For example, organisations that exploit their customers and staff are not likely to be interested in communicating clearly. So your organisation would need to have a culture where:
- honesty and openness are central to doing business
- there is a strong sense of the importance of fair dealing
- people are encouraged to question
- there is a will to improve.
What would it feel like to work in a plain English organisation?
There would be:
- a feeling of trust (people say what they mean round here – top to bottom)
- more confidence (people would really understand the organisation's values and priorities, and wouldn't feel disadvantaged because they couldn't dress them up in inflated language)
- less 'politics' (more focus on real issues)
- a sense of the importance of one's work (less time spent on trivia caused by poor communication).
If you really want to know whether you are using plain English – day in, day out – ask your customers. They are the ones whose opinions really count.
Above this article you can see all about our accreditation schemes: just two ways to help you make sure you use plain English.
© The Word Centre