Clarity is a member of the International Plain Language Working Federation. The Federation is seeking to develop an international standard for plain-language documents.

You have a possible role to play in helping the Federation with its standards project. I am hoping you will help. An international standard for plain-language documents will have benefits for readers everywhere – and for writers too.

Also having a standard is likely to generate increased interest in clear writing —so it is likely to generate work for plain-language practitioners.

The Federation

The International Plain Language Working Federation was formed in 2007 by Clarity with 2 other organisations:

Steps taken so far

As you may know, the Federation has been developing its ideas about standards for several years. The highlights are as follows.

In 2010, the Federation produced a highly-regarded options paper outlining various possible developments in the plain-language world – including, defining plain language, and establishing standards for plain language.  You can see the Options Paper here.

(A summary of the options paper will be included in the next issue of Clarity. That issue will also include several articles on language-specific, or country-specific, matters the standard may need to deal with.)

At PLAIN’s 2017 conference in Graz, Austria, the Federation

  •     committed to taking the key next steps outlined in the options paper;
  •     appointed Annetta Cheek, of the Center for Plain Language, as chair of the
    Federation; and
  •    formed a committee to drive the standards project.

The Standards Committee

The Standards Committee’s members are: Rosa Margarita Galán Vélez (Mexico), Anne-Marie Hasselrot (Sweden), Susan Kleimann and Karen Schriver (US), Lynda Harris, (NZ), Joh Kirby, Christopher Balmford (Chair) and Bede Sunter, (Australia), and Joanna Richardson (a British national based in Argentina).

Next steps

Arranging an international standard is – understandably − a significant task. The committee has been told by standards experts that – equally understandably – the best way to proceed is to get a standard up in one country and then to seek to have it adopted internationally.

As part of adopting the standard in other countries, there will be an opportunity to make changes to allow for matters that are specific to a language or a country.

For various reasons, it makes sense to start in Australia now. By the way, when it comes to standards, Australia and New Zealand tend to co-operate (not so much on rugby or netball). So an Australian Standard is likely to apply in New Zealand too.

The Australian process is expected to take until about late-2020, really only 2 years or so from now. As soon as possible after that process finishes − all being well, we aim to have the standard adopted in other countries.

Federation’s proposal

The chair of the Federation’s standards committee has been discussing our draft proposal with representatives of Standards Australia, which is the Australian body that manages standards with the International Organization for Standardization.

For our Federation’s proposal to Standards Australia to be approved, it needs to establish 3 things:

  • the benefit the standards would deliver to the Australian public – discussions with
    our Stakeholder Engagement Manager at Standards Australia indicate we have
    this covered;
  • a clear scope for the likely content of the standards− this item is well within our
    grasp. We have the relevant expertise among the members of the 3
    organisations that formed the Federation. Also much useful work was done for
    the 2010 options paper and has been developed since; and
  • support from stakeholder organisations so that Standards Australia can be sure
    that any standards implemented will be well-received. Appropriate stakeholder
    bodies include, representative organisations, government agencies, unions,
    research and academic bodies, consumer groups etc.

It is with this third item, stakeholder support, that we seek your active input.

Your input

There are 2 ways you can help, even at this early stage.

1. Stakeholder support

Our proposal this year to Standards Australia – and in a year or so, to the IOS and the standards organisation in (we hope) your country − will have an increased chance of success if we have a wide-range of organisations writing in support of the proposal to develop the standard.

The letter of support can just be a short one page letter along the lines of the draft available here: Model letter of support from stakeholder.

Standards Australia is particularly interested in representative organisations, professional bodies, government regulators, unions, consumer groups, and academic and research bodies.

So it would be most helpful if you were able to arrange a letter of support from any likely stakeholder that:

  • you work for;
  • is your client;
  • in which you have contacts.

Australian or New Zealand organisations are particularly helpful at this stage.

If you are outside Australia and New Zealand but have connections with an organisation in those countries − or with an organisation in your country that has an equivalent body in Australia or New Zealand, then we’d love to hear from you.

If you are able to help in this way, then please send an email with a little information about the potential stakeholder and your connection with it to:

  • if your contacts are in New Zealand, Lynda Harris at lynda@write.co.nz;
  • if your contacts are in Australia, Christopher Balmford at
    christopher@balmford.com; and
  • if your contacts are anywhere else, Rosa Margarita Galán Vélez at
    Mgalan@itam.mx. We will start collating those contacts for the international
    process in a year or so.

If you would like to be the person who contacts any stakeholders you nominate, then let us know.

We will then collate all that information and work out the best approach.

Timing

We are aiming for Standards Australia’s March 2019 round of proposals. So please send us your email about possible stakeholder support as soon as possible. The slightly flexible deadline is 1 September 2018. But right now would be great.

2. Getting ready in your country  

If you are in Australia or New Zealand and are interested in being involved, then please email Lynda or Christopher at the email addresses in the dot points just above.

If you are anywhere other than Australia or New Zealand, then it makes sense for you to start preparing to enable the standard to be implemented in your country. For example, you might:

  • form a Clarity standards sub-committee for your country;
  • start to think through any matters that are specific to your language or country
    – the sooner we know about those issues the better, even for the Australian and
    New Zealand standards; and
  • develop a list of likely stakeholders you can approach to support the standard.

There’s lots to be done. We hope you will help – especially with likely stakeholders in Australia and New Zealand by 1 September.