Plain language resources

Drawing together the best plain language resources from Australia and overseas into one location – research, guidelines and practical advice.

The foundation's list of plain language resources is broken up into activities to help you find what you are looking for. Search for a particular topic by keyword or filter by activity. The resources include a range of historical materials that were influential in the development of plain language, particularly in Australia.

Please note that, apart from Victoria Law Foundation resources, all resources are held on external websites.

We have developed a guide on how we have grouped the resources to make it easier for you to use them.

595 resources
Research and journals

Quantifying the cost of confusion

Presented at Clarity2016. "It’s the greatest expense you don't know you have". http://www.rswarren.com/index2.php (accessed 08/24/2016)

How often do you have to deal with confusion in your workplace?

Confusion is found in legislation, websites, emails, utility bills and payslips. It drains resources and productivity. Knowing the cost is a starting point for tackling the often hidden (and accepted) problem of confusion.

You will learn how confusion creates variance in an organisation resulting in missed targets.

This interactive workshop will discuss common causes as well as the effects of confusion. A methodology for quantifying the cost of confusion in the workplace will be presented. Given a specific scenario, you will have the opportunity of calculating the cost of confusion in a professional work environment. You will be asked to do some calculations so please bring a calculator.

Published: 2016

Research and journals

Why bother with accessibility

Presented at Clarity2016. A presentation by Disabled Person’s Organisation People First New Zealand Ltd. Ngā Tāngata Tuatahi and the Donald Beasley Institute (DBI), an independent charitable trust that conducts research in the area of learning disability.

In the first part of the session Alexia Black, Manager of People First’s Easy Read Translation Service, will discuss the case for creating and using accessible formats for legal documents and information. The presentation will begin with a look at the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – with a particular focus on Articles:

9 – Accessibility (of information)
12 – Equal recognition before the Law
13 – Access to Justice.

The talk will introduce the audience to the concept and practicalities of working with Disabled Persons Organisations, and share learnings from the organisation’s journey to create:

- the world’s first Easy Read Individual Employment Agreement
- New Zealand’s first Easy Read Will.

In the second part of the session, Alexia will be joined by Dr Brigit Mirfin-Veitch (Director of the Donald Beasley Institute). The DBI is committed to achieving social change through transformative research. Ensuring that people with learning disability have access to research findings is one important step in this process. Brigit will describe how she has engaged with People First New Zealand Ngā Tāngata Tuatahi in the context of research, and will specifically draw on a recent project concerned with the experiences of people with learning disability in the legal system.

Published: 2016

Research and journals

Clear is cool: how to reach millennials with plain language

Presented at Clarity2016. Millennials are known for not doing “business as usual” — which makes communicating with this audience a challenge for many individuals and organizations. But, what many people don’t realize is how much Millennials’ communication expectations align with the growing need for plain language and clarity. In this presentation, we’ll share data-driven insight into why plain language is the perfect communication strategy for reaching Millennials. We’ll also provide writing and content tips for bringing your plain-language messaging to life.

Attendees will gain:

  • Awareness into how plain language aligns with Millennial brand expectations
  • Insight into increasing transparency and building trust with this audience
  • Techniques for revising content

Published: 2016

Research and journals

Developing a culture of quality through external review

Presented at Clarity2016. When you are a regulatory body in an active market, achieving your goals requires reports to government, the market, and consumers. The Electricity Authority is responsible for promoting competition, reliability, and efficiency in New Zealand’s electricity industry. The Authority needs its reports to be clear, accurate, logical, and effective. Three years ago, the Authority began a project to improve the quality of its analysis and writing, using two expert companies to review and evaluate a selection of reports each year. Join representatives from the Electricity Authority, the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, and Write Limited to find out how they have combined forces to improve communication to the electricity industry and members of the public. Expect a brief overview of the first three years of the Report Review project, and the contribution made by each organisation, before we welcome questions on any aspect of the project. Participants can come at this from so many angles! How does measurement feed into better writing? What impact does a project of this nature have on the in-house culture? How did we decide what to measure? How do the two different reviews (one for analysis and one for writing quality) complement one another?

Published: 2016

Research and journals

Castalia plain language project

Presented at Clarity2016. It’s not about fun—plain English is essential to our business.

We compete in an international market. Our expertise helps us win work but so too does our sharp, innovative thinking and clear writing. Ten years ago, we decided to focus on explaining complex and, at times, novel ideas simply and compellingly. Since then, we have grown 20 percent each year and expanded from our original two offices in Wellington and Paris to additional offices in Washington DC, New York, Sydney and Bogotá. Our uncompromising focus on clarity has played a major part in achieving that success. Our expectation of clear writing starts when staff are recruited and stops only when they leave. Our comprehensive plain English standard, developed after we first won “Best Organisation” in the 2007 WriteMark Plain English awards, is used by writers and reviewers every day. It has not been easy; it can be painful for staff—who are intelligent, highly qualified, and often multi-lingual. Regardless of where and when they may be working (often in difficult situations), their writing must comply with our standard. After our repeat win in the 2015 Write Mark Plain English awards, we reflected on the past 10 years. What we have achieved—for us and our clients—tells us the decision made 10 years was a wise one.

Published: 2016

Research and journals

Design thinking to create plain English employment agreements

Presented at Clarity2016. A case study about turning employment legalese into a plain English DIY tool for small businesses — with an interactive introduction to the role of design thinking in writing with clarity.

We’ll look beneath the hood of the government’s Employment Agreement Builder, which recently transformed from an unwieldy online tool into something employers could use with confidence.

To revamp it, business design studio Empathy went beyond switching "emolument" to "fees". We delved into what tripped employers up when hiring staff and explored ways a new tool could nip mistakes in the bud. This process is called design thinking, a technique for finding human-centred solutions to complex problems.

We then worked with employment lawyers, labour inspectors and policy advisors to dig into legal requirements, best practice and common mistakes. The latter was a key feature of our content, as user testing and past projects showed the appetite for this among small businesses.

Throughout, the writing team pushed and pulled the content into everyday language. Pushing and pulling continued during sign-off, but the lawyers delighted in how we balanced clarity with capturing the spirit of the law.

Since launch, users consistently rank it 4 or 5 stars out of 5.

Published: 2016

Clarity2016 logo
Research and journals

Plain writing in the Philippines: Accomplishments, challenges, and opportunities from an empirical study

Presented at Clarity2016. This presentation shows the results and implications of an empirically grounded study in transforming a Philippine consumer-finance contract into a plain-language document. Anchored on constructivism theory, the long and tedious work comprised of the following tasks: iterative testing before and after simplification; structural and cognitive simplification; protocol-aided revision; the use of the Stylewriter editing software; the assistance of plain language experts and validation of legal specialists. The simplified document yielded favorable outcomes in terms of comprehensibility and readability. Additionally, results of the comparability study between the original and modified versions indicated statistically significant differences. These outcomes substantiated the positive gains resulting from the simplification process done. Minor redrafting was also employed based on the legal experts’ comments to ensure that all legalities were covered. The results of the study were presented to the legal team of the XXX Bank Company whose document was used in the study. Despite the very commendable feedback given, several reservations still kept the bank from adopting the modernized version of the document. In a country where the use of plain language in legal documents is still in its infancy, the Philippines serves as a very fertile ground where plain language work can flourish in the future.

Published: 2016

Research and journals

Looking back, looking forward: The contribution of an outside irritant to plain legislative language

Presented at Clarity2016. In August 1986 the then Law Reform Commission of Victoria published a Discussion Paper Legislation, Legal Rights and Plain English. This was followed by two landmark reports on the language, structure and format of legislation. Now at the 30 year mark this session will look at the impact of the work of the Commission and at what was adopted and at what was not adopted by the drafting community. The session will conclude by considering whether in the Australian context there is still a need to advocate plain legislative drafting.

Published: 2016

Clarity2016 logo
Research and journals

Short and sweet: 140 characters of pure business gold

Presented at Clarity2016.

  • 140 characters to represent your organisation’s brand
  • 140 characters to deliver your message and connect with your clients
  • 140 characters to make a profit and do better business in the fast-paced world of social media, every word — every character — counts.

In this jam-packed 20 minute session, we’ll look at how you can make your social media campaigns more successful using plain language. Vic and Cleo will take you through 5 easy tips and techniques. You’ll learn how to apply them to your own tweets, statuses, and 'grams (Instagram photos). Packed with practical hands-on learning — by the end of the session, you’ll be tweeting like a pro. And you’ll have an open-and-shut case for why you need to be active in social media for business.

Published: 2016

Clarity2016 logo
Research and journals

Taming the sharks - driving business and illuminating the law

Presented at Clarity2016. Laws are changing around the world to help protect consumers and encourage the right choices when getting products and services. The changes present a challenge and opportunity for businesses and lawyers, and a potential golden age for plain language. Translating complex legal ideas and documents into plain language is good for business.

Consumers make better informed decisions, with greater trust. Plain language provides a better consumer experience and drives consumer satisfaction.

Businesses save time, reduce complaints, and have a chance to make sure the previously boring ‘legal stuff at the end’ reflects and adds to the brand they work so hard to develop.

Laws previously focused on making sure businesses gave specific information, assuming a wide range of information would help consumers make informed decisions. But experiences from the global financial crisis have shown that more information is not necessarily good information. Plain language stands as a beacon – writing to be easily understood and to help drive the right behaviour.

The session covers one lawyer’s journey into the light. It outlines how plain language and the law deliver the right outcomes for businesses and consumers.

Published: 2016

Clarity2016 logo
Research and journals

Engineering sticky change: A blueprint for amplifying the value of plain language training

Presented at Clarity2016. If you've ever hired in a plain language expert or delivered a plain language workshop yourself, you'll know that even top-rated training doesn’t always stick. Indeed, the hoped for transformation in writing style may be nowhere in sight! Worse still, skeptics may claim it was a waste of time and money.

Engineering sticky change tackles an issue that we all recognise but find hard to overcome. Shaun Sheldrake and Phil Hartwick offer a compelling, yet beautifully simple, approach that virtually guarantees positive behavioral change and, ultimately, the desired business impact.

Grounded in well-researched, evidence-based principles, this session will be a breath of fresh air for anyone who needs to achieve a clear return on investment from that precious training dollar.

Published: 2016

Clarity2016 logo
Research and journals

Measuring the results of plain language work: Success stories from Norway

Presented at Clarity2016. We all “know” the benefits of plain language. Through the years, we have experienced that plain language can save time and money, and make the users satisfied. But can we prove it? One of the challenges of plain language work has traditionally been to document the concrete results. We all know that plain language is effective and user friendly, but can we actually measure the effects? Can we get the evidence in numbers and figures? And can we use the evidence to convince managers to see the importance of plain language work? In Norway we wanted to explore this, and we have encouraged public agencies and ministries to measure the effects of their plain language work. In my presentation, I will describe the different ways some of the agencies have worked, how they measured, and the results they achieved. You will for instance learn about one municipality that saved money in elderly care, after changing the language in one letter. Another government agency could document a positive change of culture inside the agency, after measuring results due to plain language work.

Published: 2016

Clarity2016 logo
Research and journals

Clarifying board papers

Presented at Clarity2016. This session aims to provide you with the knowledge and confidence to present your board with the best possible paper, leading to the best outcome for you and your organisation.

Your board is accountable for your organisation’s performance. And board papers should reflect this.

But we tend to write board papers in soft, flowery language. We fill board papers with clutter—‘the official language used by corporations to hide their mistakes'—that hides our paper’s purpose. This session will examine common paper writing pitfalls and how to avoid them. But we will also discuss how to:

  • garner board support for your movement toward a plain English board pack
  • reduce board paper length
  • disseminate the information across your organisation, and
  • get buy-in from the rest of the organisation.

Published: 2016

Victoria Law Foundation logo
Essential writing tools
Legal writing

Legal glossary

Developed in consultation with lawyers and law dictionary editors, this plain language glossary explains more than 450 common legal terms.

Legal professionals can use it in their work with clients and members of the public.

Published: 2015

Research and journals

Reconciling the needs for legal accuracy with a commitment to plain language

Presentation at the PLAIN 2015 conference. The presentation explored how you can negotiate with lawyers and other specialists on reference groups set up to ensure the accuracy of your publication. It covered why to use reference groups, how to set them up and what’s involved in translating legalese into plain language. It showed that you can reconcile the need for accuracy with a commitment to plain language.

Published: 2015

Research and journals

Best practice guidelines for community legal education

Presentation at the PLAIN 2015 conference. This session focused on best practice guidelines for the development and maintenance of online community legal information developed by the Victorian Legal Assistance Forum. The use of search engines to find information can lead the user to incorrect or irrelevant information that is unlikely to assist. Even when relevant websites are located many are too complicated, poorly structured and don’t meet plain language guidelines. The guidelines were developed to help address these issues.

Published: 2015

Clarity logo
Research and journals

The Clarity Journal no. 73

This issue includes the following articles:

  • The architecture of clarity - Mark Cooney, p. 6.
  • You think lawyers are good drafters? - Joe Kimble, p. 11.
  • Recent developments in contract drafting techniques - Cheryl Stephens, p. 14.
  • Setting up a local Clarity meeting - Daphne Perry, p. 18
  • Take your protein pills and put your helmet on: we're going places! - Carol Clasby, p. 21.
  • Plainly in Polish - Justyna Zandberg-Malec, p. 24.
  • Clear language and awareness in language policy in Norway - Arnfinn Muruvik Vonen, p. 29.
  • Communicating with older people: writing in plain English - Catherine Buckle, p. 33.
  • Clear & Concise - Become a better business writer by Susan McKerihan - Michael Kirby, p. 34.
  • Rewrite: How to overcome daily sabotage of your brand and profit by Lynda Harris - Kate Harrison Whiteside, p. 35.

Keywords: plain language, clarity journal

Published: 2014

Research and journals

Caught in the web – young people and the internet

A summary of research into how young people use the internet to solve legal problems and the challenges they face.

The research was undertaken by Dr Catrina Denvir from the University College London Faculty of Law. The article contains a link to a PowerPoint presentation provided by Dr Denvir.

Published: 2014

Clarity logo
Research and journals

The Clarity Journal no. 72

This issue includes the following articles:

  • How do our readers really think, understand, and decide - despite what they know? - Mark Hochhauser, PhD. p. 6.
  • What's in a name? The future for plain language in a converging communication profession - Dr Neil James, p. 9.
  • Acceptance speech for the Christine Mowat Award - Martin Cutts, p. 20.
  • Plain language for accessibility, democracy, and citizenship - Cathy Basterfield and Mark Starford, p. 22.
  • A methodology for clear communication - Robert Linsky, p. 26.
  • Coaching legal experts in plain language for the web - Mats Hydbom, p. 34.

Keywords: plain language, clarity journal

Published: 2014

Research and journals

Meeting the information needs of litigants in person

A report on research undertaken by Law for Life's Advicenow project that examines the legal information needs of litigants in person (self-represented litigants) in England and Wales.

The report provides useful information for anyone involved in writing information about the law that may be used by litigants in person. The report focuses on information notes, guides and leaflets, but the principles it outlines will also be useful for all standard forms of communication aimed at litigants in person, including court forms.

Published: 2014

Organisations

Plain Language Association International (PLAIN)

Plain Language Association International (PLAIN) is the international association for plain language supporters and practitioners that promotes clear communication in any language. Their growing network includes plain language advocates, professionals and organisations. PLAIN organises an international conference every two years. PLAIN is a membership organisation.

Published: 2013

Organisations

Victoria Law Foundation

Victoria Law Foundation aims to help Victorians understand the law and use it to improve their lives. It produces plain language publications, delivers education programs and advocates for the use of plain language in the law.

Published: 2013

Pages

This page was last updated on August 17, 2016