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Plain English campaign news articles

PEC quiz council about 'school closure gobbledygook'

Plain English Campaign (PEC) has challenged Derbyshire County Council to explain why it has used 'gobbledygook, obscure words, woolly thinking and inaccurate statements' in communications with villagers in Combs.

PEC asks why it took the council 151 words to say to parents: 'There will be a meeting at Combs Infant School on Tuesday May 22 at 6.30pm to discuss the future of the school. Derbyshire County Council is considering closing the school to save money.'

The council's long introduction to the letter received by parents on May 9 is just one of the points being queried in Plain English Campaign's reply to David Humphrey, the council's Head of Development. More gobbledygook occurs in a document sent to school governors in the council's attempt to assist them.

Here is an example: 'However, the Strategy recognised that there are many alternative strategies for addressing surplus places and that these may be necessary in instances where no individual project at a single school could address the problem; when an area perspective indicated that a review across numbers of schools was required the solution may involve all schools.'

Elsewhere the council uses words like 'cohorts' and 'discontinuance' and clumsy phrases such as 'commitment of resources', which, says Plain English Campaign, means 'expense.' PEC asks Mr Humphrey to explain 'net capacity' at the school. Does this mean number of pupils? Is there a 'gross capacity'? What is the 'published admission number'? What is 'PLASC 2007 (% surplus)'?

PEC's founder-director Chrissie Maher, who lives in Combs and has a grandchild at the school, says 'One inaccuracy is their statement that our children progress to Chapel-en-le-Frith Primary School. In fact not one child from Combs has gone there in the past eight years. If they cannot express themselves clearly, and make inaccurate statements, how do we know they are thinking clearly? It looks as though gobbledygook is once again swamping common sense, clarity and good government.'

Governor of Florida introduces plain language initiative

The Governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, has introduced a 'plain language' initiative within the state, to ensure that documents and other communications issued by his office are as clear and concise as possible. The initiative, contained in an Executive Order issued in January, extends to any other agencies under the Governor's control.

Documents must include

  • Clear language that is commonly used by the intended audience;
  • Only the information needed by the recipient, presented in a logical sequence;
  • Short sentences written in the active voice that make it clear who is responsible for what; and
  • Layout and design that help the reader understand the meaning on the first try (including adequate white space, bulleted lists, and helpful headings).

Governor Crist writes on his website that

'It needs to be clear that the people are the boss of state government, not the other way around. In the business world, a business would not be successful if those responsible for making important decisions could not understand what the employees were saying. It is not too much to ask us to speak clearly to our employers.'

We were delighted to hear about this move. Is it too much to hope that other states and departments will follow Governor Crist's example?

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