The PLAIN conference takes place every two years and is presented by the Plain Language Association International (PLAIN), usually with a partner organisation. This year's partner was National Adult Literacy Agency of Ireland and as a result the focus of the conference was very much on community communication.
Highlights included a paper from Diana Twist from Decoda in Canada who talked about adult literacy. Did you know that 46% of Australian's struggle with basic literacy? It's something that we all need to remember if we are in the business of producing legal information for the public. Decoda's work is of particular interest in relation to its review of the public legal education and information programs of the Law Services Society of British Columbia (the equivalent of our Legal Aid). It found that nearly all their material was too complicated for the intended audience. Their reports are available through the Law Services Society of British Columbia evaluation report pages.
The editor of The Guardian and Observer Style Guide, David Marsh, also spoke about using style guides. This may seem far removed from your work but they are crucial in publishing where consistency is key. You may be interested to know that The Guardian is happy for anyone to use their style guide as a reference tool, and it is accessible from The Guardian's website. They also have a very entertaining Twitter feed @guardianstyle.
And once again Emeritus Professor Joe Kimble spoke about the benefits of implementing plain language programs. His book Writing for dollars, writing to please outlines the many cost benefits that a plain language program delivers, as well as including the most influential plain language events. On reading it, you might be surprised by the influential role that Australians have played in improving the quality of legal writing across the world.
Online communication was a major topic at the conference, and represented a real shift in thinking of attendees. This is an area that the foundation was able to offer our expertise. I spoke about the VLAF online legal information guidelines. With many attendees only just facing the challenges of shifting from print to online communication, the guidelines offer 12 simple steps for producing good online communication supported by a range of online reference tools to address common pitfalls. If you are involved in producing legal information for the community you should be aiming to meet these guidelines. The slides from my presentation can be downloaded from our website.
Stephen James spoke about working with reference groups when producing community publications, and how to manage expectations while you gather important information to inform your publication. Being clear about the purpose of your publication and how you will use the information collection are all essential points. His slides will be available shortly.
The next plain language conference will be late in 2016 and delivered by Clarity. It looks like it will take place in New Zealand or Australia. If you are interested in plain language and hearing experts from around the world talk about their experiences and challenges then I encourage you to consider attending.