I suspect we’re all a little worried at the moment about the state of the world. Many of us are reading, watching and listening to whatever we can to get an understanding of what it means.
How are we affected by social distancing and other rules that aim to stop the spread of a contagious virus?
- What can we do or not do?
- Where can we go or not go?
- What will remain open and what will close?
- Will I keep my job?
These are all questions people are asking themselves in this time of uncertainty.
I’ve watched Australia’s Prime Minister give updates on the health situation with people for whom English is a second language. Members of my family make up part of the 29% (or 7.3 million people) of Australians that were born overseas.
We’ve also heard about the government’s moves to keep the economy going. We’ve listened as Prime Minister Scott Morrison has talked about:
- “…bridge to the recovery on the other side”
- “…the battle that all Australians are enlisted in as we fight this virus”
- “supercharging the safety net”.
“We have to steel ourselves for the next six months,” he says, as he explains “…the biggest economic shock our nation has faced in generations…”.
There’s social distancing, lockdowns, businesses going into “hibernation”, “essential services” and “essential workers”. We’re told not to leave our houses unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Yet we also hear “Everyone who has a job in this economy is an essential worker. Every single job that is being done in our economy with these severe restrictions that are taking place is essential”.
With all this going on, I’m getting asked:
- What’s he talking about?
- Why is he talking about bridges?
- What’s open, they’re not making sense
- What can we / can’t we do?
I hear those questions and immediately think about the importance of plain language. Because in times like these, it’s more important than ever to be clear, understandable and to the point.
In contrast, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is doing a good job of getting his points across.
Under these measures, there will only be four reasons to leave your house:
For food and supplies. For exercise. For medical care. And for work and education – if necessary.
— Dan Andrews (@DanielAndrewsMP) March 29, 2020
How? He keeps things simple. He uses clear language and he dot-points any requirements or actions.
Premier Andrews’ delivery follows many Readability Guidelines curated by Content Design London (CDL). This is a great resource for anyone looking for help to communicate effectively.
Some of these guidelines include:
- Choose easy and short words not formal, long ones.
- Jargon and buzzwords are unlikely to be clear language.
- Use active voice.
- Make your average sentence 15 words long.
- Avoid complex sentence structures.
This means Daniel Andrews gets through to people, and they understand his message.
It’s not easy, things change quickly, and I know governments across Australia are doing the best they can. But, they need to make sure the message gets through.
Things need to be understandable, direct and to the point. No bridges. No safety nets. No “it’s essential unless it’s not”. No three-word slogans. They don’t help anybody.
No matter who you are, if you want to communicate clearly to all Australians, use plain English.
- The Australian Government’s Content Guide, particularly the section on Writing Style
- Content Design London’s Readability Guidelines
Whether you’re writing or speaking, these guidelines will help members of my family and others for whom English is not their first language. It will also help people with low literacy, and people with disability troubled by complex language.