A new language for the people…

Nigel-Hawthorne-Paul-Eddi-001Following on from their award-winning website redesign, the Government Digital Service have just published a new style guide for users creating written content on http://www.gov.uk.

Aimed at encouraging the use of a more straightforward approach to copy writing, the guide includes some great advice that’s well worth considering for anyone looking to communicate more effectively, whether in government or not.

The guide urges writers to “use the language people are using”, warning against “vague” jargon and buzzwords and suggesting that the use of metaphors should be avoided completely.

Users are advised to use plain English and “not to use formal or long words when easy or short ones will do”. Generalised, “empty” concepts are also be avoided, as they can result in confusion and people losing trust.

As a result, the guide suggests that certain words can be done without completely,  or should only be used in their proper context. “All audiences should understand our content,” the guide explains. “This is not dumbing down. This is opening up government information to all.”

The list of words they ‘can do without’ makes interesting reading. …

  • agenda (unless it is for a meeting)
  • advancing
  • collaborate (use ‘working with’)
  • combating
  • commit/pledge (we need to be more specific – we’re either doing something or we’re not)
  • countering
  • deliver (pizzas, post and services are delivered – not abstract concepts like ‘improvements’ or ‘priorities’)
  • deploy (unless it is military or software)
  • dialogue (we speak to people)
  • disincentivise (and incentivise)
  • empower
  • facilitate (instead, say something specific about how you are helping)
  • focusing
  • foster (unless it is children)
  • impact (as a verb)
  • initiate
  • key (unless it unlocks something. A subject/thing isn’t ‘key’ – it’s probably ‘important’)
  • land (as a verb. Only use if you are talking about aircraft)
  • leverage (unless in the financial sense)
  • liaise
  • overarching
  • progress (as a verb – what are you actually doing?)
  • promote (unless you are talking about an ad campaign or some other marketing promotion)
  • robust
  • slimming down (processes don’t diet – we are probably removing x amount of paperwork, etc)
  • streamline
  • strengthening (unless it’s strengthening bridges or other structures)
  • tackling (unless it is rugby, football or some other sport)
  • transforming (what are you actually doing to change it?)
  • utilise

Always avoid metaphors. For example:

  • drive (you can only drive vehicles; not schemes or people)
  • drive out (unless it is cattle)
  • going forward (unlikely we are giving travel directions)
  • in order to (superfluous – don’t use it)
  • one-stop shop (we are government, not a retail outlet)
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