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Back to basics – Plain English winners the cream of the communications crop

In an age of unprecedented corporate spin and technical gobbledygook, organisations keeping it real are few and far between. But they are out there, as Statistics New Zealand's win in the Plain English Awards proves.

Run by the WriteMark Plain English Awards Trust, the awards put the spotlight on how well information from the public and private sector is communicated to the people who need it.

Statistics NZ won the 'Best Organisation' category for making complex, technical information clear to ordinary New Zealanders and an "impressive and tenacious" effort to promote plain English at all levels internally.

Awards founder Lynda Harris said statistics were challenging to simplify but Statistics NZ had shown commitment to plain English and the clarity of its information improved hugely as a result.

"Statistics NZ understands that when its information is complex, it’s even more important that it is communicated to the public clearly," she said.

"Statistics NZ is well on the way to having plain English embedded throughout the organisation, and that makes it a worthy winner of the top Plain English Award."

Other big winners were the Cancer Society, ACC, the Ministry of Social Development, Careers NZ, Contact Energy, the Department of Conservation, and Optimal Usability.

The People's Choice 'Best Plain English Document Award' was won by Elections New Zealand for its enrolment form and Kiwibank won the award for 'Best Plain English Website'.

The dubious 'Brainstrain' award, where members of the public nominate written information they have found difficult and confusing to read, went to Capital and Coast District Health Board for an information letter sent to a patient.

The judges found the two-page letter was "a terrible muddle" and would be confusing for anyone with poor vision. The elderly person who received the letter was so confused by it, she had to call her son to explain it to her.

But the Commerce Commission, the winner of the 'Brainstrain' category last year, turned things around and was a finalist in the ‘Best Organisation’ category this year, demonstrating that there's hope for everyone.

"The Commerce Commission has made great strides since last year. It used last year’s booby prize as a spur to action, and it has embraced plain English with fervour," said trust chairman Gregory Fortuin.

"That’s why these awards are so worthwhile – they really do make a difference, by turning the spotlight on how well organisations are communicating with the people they need to reach."

A new category, 'Best Plain English Financial Document', was introduced this year.

UDC Finance won the Investment Statement award with its UDC Secured Investments Prospectus December 2010 and AMP Services won the General Financial Document award, with Build and Manage Wealth on Your Terms with AMP Wealth View.

"In the troubled world economy, it is vital that people be able to clearly understand financial information that affects them," Fortuin said. "It was good to see the commitment to clear communications from those who enteredthough, in general, the financial sector still has room to improve."