This blog shares some of our thoughts about plain language, and the latest discussions about plain English and clear design in New Zealand, and around the world.

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22 July 2011

Good information; good health

I met someone this week who wanted to talk to Write about health literacy — see our blog
Reading and writing for health. She works for a District Health Board (DHB) and knows that people with low literacy often have poorer health.

There’s no shortage of information on every health problem. However, actually using it to improve your health and your family’s health is a complex language task. You have to find the right information, read or hear the words, and understand your illness. Then you have to consider your options, decide how to change your life, set goals and achieve them.

My new friend at the DHB wants people in her region to find it easy to get the health information they need. It’s a challenge, because about 45% of New Zealanders have low literacy, and struggle with the information demands of each day. She can’t change the literacy of the community, but she can encourage the people who produce the brochures and forms to write them clearly and simply.

I’ve sent her two links to websites with statistics and research on literacy in NZ. The first link is to the home page of the international Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALL) survey. NZ was one of 12 countries that conducted the survey in 2006.

Education Counts is the research section of the Ministry of Education. They aim to ‘increase the availability and accessibility of information about education statistics and research in New Zealand’. The website is easy to use, and has a range of articles on aspects of literacy, using the results of the survey.

The second link is to the Ministry of Health’s research into Health Literacy and Māori, using the same survey results.

If you write health information for a DHB, try these tips:
  • write short sentences — generally shorter than 20 words
  • give only three main messages — more information is not always better
  • define medical words the first time you use them or use a plain English alternative for a medical word — download our medical ebook
Go to our website for links to more blogs about health literacy

Read about our workshop Writing Health Information Clearly

21 July 2011

'The clearest book ever'?

I've just finished a great little book by author Wendy Betteridge. Titled 'It's Your Thoughts that Count', it reminds us about the tremendous power of one's thoughts and how they, above all else, shape your life. Scary but true.

However, it wasn't the great title that caught my eye -- it was the challenge to Wendy on the Acknowledgments page that aroused my curiosity. John Ansell, well-known adman (iwi-kiwi) and passionate campaigner for plain English, challenged Wendy to write 'the clearest book ever'.

What a challenge! Wendy rose to it admirably and the result is an easily digestible book full of advice and inspiration to make one's life a clear reflection of our best-self thoughts.

It's Your Thoughts that Count

15 July 2011

Proofreading makes money

This article from BBC News gives some evidence for the return on investment of good document practices -- editing and proofreading.

It's not just documents destined for hard-copy printing that need proofreading. Remember to proofread copy for your website or blog. This often-overlooked part of the publishing process for online documents can have a big impact.

According to Charles Duncombe and the Confederation of British Industry, a single spelling mistake can cut your online sales in half.

07 July 2011

'So you think you can write about my specialist topic?'

Clients often want to know how we can help in the writing process — especially when we’re not subject matter experts.

Not experts in your topic

Subject matter experts are, of course, the ones we rely on to ensure that what we write is accurate. Our expertise lies in:
  • extracting the information – from interviews, background reading, even watching you in action
  • structuring the information
  • writing the information in clear terms so that other people can understand your messages.
One of the key benefits we bring is a fresh eye to the information. We’re not afraid to ask ‘why?’ or even ‘so what?’ and we’ll tell you when something isn’t clear enough. Our aim is to produce the text you would have written if you’d had the time and the plain English skills.

And you might be surprised what we know a bit about. Out writing team has worked with myriad subjects and vastly different clients.

But experts in writing about any topic

We use a clearly defined writing process that includes research and planning, writing and editing, with consultation along the way. We’ll consider the purpose and audience and create an outline of your document. We’ll check the structure with you. Then we’ll provide the content in more detail, usually over several iterations, crafting as we go. The aim is for you to feel confident your material is accurately conveyed and uses your voice and style.

Making sure the document is readable and accessible — and connects with the intended audience — is fundamental. We’ll be the advocate for the reader. It’s often hard for people with a lot of information and expertise at their disposal to get to the real heart of what they need to say. We’ll ask all the questions your reader might ask, so together we can refine the content and tell your story clearly.

And ready to help you any time

Our process is tried and true, and calling on our writing team can be a godsend when deadlines are looming. In the end, the writing still belongs to you — you can decide to accept or reject what we come up with.

We think we can write — but you be the judge.

Find out more by emailing

01 July 2011

The Oxford comma lives!

This from Stuff:
A report that Oxford University had changed its comma rule left some punctuation obsessives  alarmed, annoyed, and distraught. Passions subsided as the university said the news was imprecise, incomplete and misleading.

Catch the difference between the two previous sentences? An "Oxford comma" was used before "and" in the first sentence, but is absent in the second, in accordance with the style used by The Associated Press.

Guides to correct style differ and the issue became heated on Twitter after reports of the Oxford comma's demise. But have no fear, comma-philes: the Oxford comma lives...

[see Stuff for the rest of the article]