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18 February 2014

Government Jargon buster booklet a step in the right direction

Bravo! Several government agencies who deal with procuring services have just released a jargon-buster booklet designed to help those of us who struggle with bureaucratic language. What exactly  is procurement, I hear you ask? I can now tell you. It's 'all aspects of acquiring and delivering goods, services and works. It starts with identifying a need and finishes with either the end of a service contract or the end of the useful life and disposal of an asset.'

Whew! What a relief. Anyone who has ever tried to bid for a government contract knows how dense and difficult the procurement process is. And the language of procurement has usually been the first major hurdle to be overcome by anyone trying to get a slice of government business. Scary jargon, overblown euphemisms and a sea of acronyms have often confronted anyone trying to fight their way through a Request for Tender or Expression of Interest document.

So it's wonderful to see that several government agencies, including the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, the Office of the Auditor General, Treasury, and the State Services Commission have collaborated on producing this useful jargon buster Common Procurement Words and Expressions Explained.

Jargon has a place, but clarity is best
The booklet will be a valuable, practical resource. We'll be keeping one close to hand at Write. I do have to wonder, though, whether we really need phrases like 'constructive market engagement' when the definition explains that it is really 'meeting with suppliers to discuss your needs and find out what's on offer in the marketplace.' Really, the bureaucratic jargon term adds very little.

Jargon does have its place. It can be a useful shortcut, to save time and space for those in the know. But there's the rub. Jargon is a type of 'in-group' language. It only works well for those who are part of the in-group. And all too often, writers over-estimate people's desire for, and understanding of, jargon. Clarity, simplicity, and accuracy trump jargon almost every time.

So congratulations to the government agencies who produced the procurement jargon buster booklet. But the very fact that the booklet is 34 pages long tells us that jargon is far too prevalent. Let's try to cut it right back, so that we have less need of booklets to translate jargon, no matter how good they are.

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