Skillset New Zealand Blog

Ideas to help your team develop personally and professionally.

Plain English is a low benchmark. It's the minimum these days.

It does help council staff write to residents in a more approachable way, rather than as a bureaucrat from the 19th century, but it's not enough.

Councils need clarity in their writing - and not just in their enforcement roles. They are complex organisations and ambiguity between colleagues is inefficient.

Councils need their staff to spend less time writing, rather than cutting, pasting and changing text until somehow it seems a little better, but they are not sure why.

Councils need to build cooperative relationships with their residents.

So what's the next level?

Four suggestions.

1. Focus on the reader. It sounds easy, but it's a demanding discipline. Keep asking yourself, 'Would the my colleague or my resident understand my point? How useful is this idea, sentence or paragraph for this reader?'

2. Be direct - appropriately direct. Say what you mean and say it early so they know why they are reading your report, email, or letter. Could you put your recommendations up front? They'll read them first anyway.

Be direct in paragraphs too. Give each paragraph a topic sentence, followed by supporting information. We call it 'state and expand'.

3. Use the active voice. 'I have assessed the risks', not ,'The risks have been assessed' 'Graph 1 summarises the results' not, 'The results are summarised in Graph 1'. 'The Council has decided to...' not 'It has been decided that...'

4. Add humans. 'We received 214 objections to the application', not, 'The application received 214 objections'. Even, 'The Council received...' suggests humans did the receiving, and makes more sense.

5. Build relationships with informality. Imagine you are talking to an individual resident.


Interested in a workshop on business writing for your team? Contact us This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. We'll put you in touch with a trainer, not a salesperson.


About Ralph Brown

ralph brown blog3

Ralph is our founder. He has a background in psychology, television journalism and business.

Ralph's passions are positive psychology and writing. He leads workshops on both and speaks to conferences on the psychology of thriving at work.

In 2011  Professional Speakers Australia awarded him its top speaking accreditation, the CSP. He has since been made a life member of Professional Speakers New Zealand.

He has written six books, six e-books and more than a hundred articles on psychology and writing. International research journals have published his articles reviewing the research on resilience.

Ralph lives in rural Canterbury. He is a JP and marriage celebrant and enjoys travelling to French-speaking countries.

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