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Government Organisations Dominate Plain English Awards

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

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Government and public sector organisations have dominated the 2009 WriteMark New Zealand Plain English Awards, and judges say the private sector needs to catch up.

Public sector organisations won nine of the 12 awards despite there being more entries from private sector companies overall.

Winners were announced tonight at a ceremony and cocktail function at the Museum Building, Massey University in Wellington attended by around 200 guests and contenders.

The top prize of $10,000 went to the Office of the Banking Ombudsman, which provides binding resolution services where people have disputes with their banks. Deputy Banking Ombudsman Susan Taylor said the Office entered the Awards to get recognition for the hard work staff put into using plain English.

"The benefits from translating our documents and brochures into plain English have been immeasurable. It's extremely important the public understands the services we offer, so we have to make information clear and accessible."

Other government or public sector winners included the NZ Transport Agency, ACC, the Cancer Society, the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance and the Ministries of Justice and Fisheries.

Visiting international Awards judge Neil James of the Plain English Foundation in Sydney said documents entered by government agencies were genuinely world class and showed a real commitment to plain English.

"The public sector in New Zealand is clearly leading the way and the private sector could learn a great deal from its public sector colleagues," he said.

Plain English Awards founder Lynda Harris said the public sector's emphasis on plain English will inevitably raise New Zealanders' expectations for documents, forms and websites that are easy to understand.

"We had some truly excellent entries from private companies, but standards weren't as consistently high as those from the public sector. We expect private sector entries will get better and better in future as they respond to public demand."

Private sector winners included Springload for its website and Pinnacle Life, whose life insurance policy document was described by judges as clear, sophisticated and "as good as it gets".

"Brainstrain" Awards, which are reserved for documents and websites that are confusing and could cause harm when misunderstood, went to Vodafone NZ for an online page of terms and conditions and to the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (REINZ) for its Sale of Real Estate by Auction form.

REINZ Chief Executive Christine Le Cren said the "Brainstrain" didn't come as a great surprise.

"We admit the form was a bit of a howler, so we're prepared to take the award on the chin. In fact we've put an incredible amount of effort into making our forms less complex so they no longer strain the brains of property buyers and sellers."

The WriteMark New Zealand Plain English Awards are held every year to honour individuals and organisations doing their best to communicate with the public in plain English. This year the Awards attracted a record 138 entries, including several made by the general public.

Judges included plain language experts from New Zealand and overseas.

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