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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26 February 2013

A conversation about health literacy with Lorna Bingham, Diabetes Nurse Specialist and Nurse Practitioner candidate, Capital & Coast District Health Board

I had a conversation about health literacy with Lorna Bingham, Diabetes Nurse Specialist and Nurse Practitioner candidate, Capital & Coast District Health Board.

Lorna says that her goal for her patients is that they have the confidence and competence to manage their daily lives while living well with diabetes.

She assures them that they will be able to master the skills to do the daily tasks of diabetes and she supports them until they can.

Health literacy’s role in living well
Diabetes is a complex, long-term condition. It takes its toll over time, so protecting yourself and preventing complications is important.

Living with a long-term condition has two parts — managing the tasks of living well in your daily life, and managing the whole spectrum of your life.

To live well with diabetes requires good health literacy — to understand what diabetes is, what you have to do to take care of your body, and why that’s important.

Small steps every day and good conversations

Diabetes requires people’s attention every day. To support people in their daily tasks, Lorna teaches them about insulin and how to manage their medicines; she teaches them how to recognise problems early so the problems don’t become complications, how to solve them and, of course, how to live well with diabetes.

Lorna develops the health literacy of her patients by normalising the daily tasks of living with diabetes  — testing blood sugar levels, self-injecting, and balancing exercise and diet — and by supporting people while they practise. ‘ It’s important to normalise the daily tasks,’ Lorna says, ‘so that people know how to manage the problems that develop from time to time in any long-term condition.’

It takes time and practice to develop the knowledge, confidence, and competence to manage all aspects of diabetes in your daily life. Lorna believes that given adequate support most people with diabetes can manage most tasks well, most of the time.  It’s a matter of taking small steps, talking and waiting, drawing diagrams, and talking and waiting — and keeping the conversation going.

by Rosie Knight

25 February 2013

22 February 2013

Get off the bus with that language!

I spotted this sign on one of the new Go Wellington buses.

The word ‘standees’ bothered me. I wonder if the sign could just say ‘Please don’t stand behind this line’.

At first I thought they’d made a laughable mistake, and that ‘standee’ meant ‘person or thing being stood on’. But no; Go Wellington has used ‘standee’ correctly. I checked the Oxford Dictionary and I stand corrected. Their use of ‘standee’ is spot on, even if it isn’t commonly used. The big book says:

standee: noun — a person who is standing rather than seated, especially in a passenger vehicle.

But is ‘standee’ plain and clear? If English wasn't your first language, would you immediately get the message? Many bus passengers are new to New Zealand and may not understand it on first reading.

And it’s exactly the kind of bureaucratic language that makes customers feel distanced from the Council, which does so much to serve them. I’m a big fan of the Wellington City Council and its services and amenities.

But this language is absolutely positively not reader-focused!

01 February 2013

Moving to client-centred writing

Good ideas unite people. The international plain language network is a group of people who know that plain language is good for business. And they’re generous about sharing their knowledge. This week, Gerry Galacio from the LinkedIn Plain Language Advocates group shared a list of seven case studies and resources, when a member asked how an organisation can manage the change to client-centred writing.

One of Gerry’s case studies was an article by Write’s Christine Smith, ‘Leaving Legalese Behind’ (Clarity Number 61 May 2009, 29–32). Christine tells how AJ Park, a New Zealand intellectual property law firm, started and maintains its plain language programme. In 2013, Christine is still helping our clients change their writing culture, and AJ Park remains committed to clear communication.

Read Christine’s article on pages 29–32 at

And look out for more stories from Write in Lynda Harris’s book due out this year. The book will capture the change model and the stories of several organisations that have successfully developed a plain language culture.