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Government plain English woe

Back in 2014, the Government’s Digital Service brought in ‘mandatory’ guidelines for ‘writing and managing content’. In particular, that meant keeping to plain English principles.
Or, in their own words, from the ‘Writing for GOV.UK’ guide: “Plain English is mandatory for all of GOV.UK. One of the parts most people pick up on is the plain English (or words to avoid) list. This isn’t just a list of words to avoid. Plain English is the whole ethos of GOV.UK: it’s a way of writing.”
Well, it seems quite a few government departments haven’t been following that ‘whole ethos’. Visible Thread, a ‘global leader in content quality management’, has carried out a report on the matter. They conclude that 92% of UK Government agency websites don’t meet readability standards.
They also found that only two of 26 central government agencies were up to scratch regarding readability, and no government websites met the passive language target.
This is obviously a pretty dismal performance. When the mandatory guidelines were introduced, we were hopeful that they would be followed by all government departments. They were, after all, mandatory. But it seems they’ve instead been dealt with as though they were only recommendations, and largely ignored.
A shame, but what will be done to bring the worst culprits up to standard? If any of those failing to hit recommended targets need our help, we’re happy to offer it.
Fergal McGovern, CEO of Visible Thread, had this to say. “With few exceptions, poor communications on government websites continue to confuse readers and lead to increased customer support costs.”
So there’s plenty of reason for those falling behind to fall into step. Clarity saves not only embarrassment when such reports are published, but money. We’ll be interested to see if anyone gets in touch with us, or introduces plain English into often unreadable documents. If they’re already ignoring ‘mandatory’ guidelines we’re not hopeful.
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