Plain English Awards take aim at jargon and gobbledygook

August 20, 2018

Have you ever received an email or a letter from an organisation that left you confused? Maybe you’ve tried to cancel your mobile phone, TV or broadband contract but simply couldn’t understand the terms and conditions? Or perhaps you were out for a hike and read a sign about an occupiers’ liability that left you asking, or maybe even shouting: ‘Why doesn’t anybody just say what they mean?’

The good news is that it’s not your fault. The blame lies squarely with jargon and gobbledygook. These are the main enemies of clear communication and the Plain English Awards are now taking aim at both of them.

Entries for the 2018 Plain English Awards now open

The National Adult Literacy Agency has teamed up with leading law firm Mason Hayes & Curran to launch the second Irish Plain English Awards. The aims of the awards are to reward organisations that communicate clearly and to promote the use of plain English in all public information.

Building on the success of the first awards in 2016, this year’s awards has five new categories, including one for the public called ‘Best letter or email rewritten in plain English’. This category will be open to members of the public to rewrite in plain English a confusing letter or email they received from an organisation. Entries for this category will be in with a chance to win €500.

Anyone can enter the competition online at So, if you’ve got a document you’re proud of, or an awful piece of text that you’ve transformed, you’ve got an entry.

The closing date is 5pm on Friday 19 October 2018.

Before and after plain English examples

Example 1.

Here’s an extract from the terms and conditions of that mobile phone, TV or broadband contract before plain English has been used:

“If a Customer terminates an account within an Initial Period, the service provider shall without prejudice to its rights to treat the termination as a breach or repudiation of the Agreement for Service, agree to accept such termination provided notice of this termination is addressed to the service provider. In such circumstances, the Customer shall be liable and agrees to pay the service provider the sum amounting to the balance of the rental due for the Initial Period. A Customer may terminate an account outside the Initial Period by giving the service provider one month’s notice in writing.”

Here’s the same thing after plain English has been used:

Can I cancel my account before the minimum time is up?

If you cancel your account before the end of the time you have signed up for, you must tell us you are doing so. We can treat this action as a breach of contract and you must pay the amount due for the time left in the minimum period of your contract.

How do I cancel my account after I have completed the minimum time?

Once you have had your account for the minimum period, you may cancel it by giving us one month’s notice in writing.”

Example 2.

Here’s that Occupiers’ Liability sign before plain English has been used:

“If you pass beyond this point, you are on a premises.

Take notice that the occupier of this premises, given the nature, character and activities of these premises hereby, in accordance with section 5(2) of the Occupiers Liability Act 1995, excludes the duty of care towards visitors under section 3 of the Act.

WARNING Unauthorised Entry is PROHIBITED”

Here’s the same thing after plain English has been used:

“If you pass this sign, you will be on a premises.

You are not allowed to enter this premises without permission.

Due to the nature of these premises and the type of activities carried out here, we cannot guarantee your safety. The person in charge of these premises takes no responsibility for you or your safety if you pass this sign. (This is in line with section 5(2) of the Occupiers Liability Act 1995.)”

Speaking about the awards, Inez Bailey, CEO, NALA, said: “By communicating in plain English, organisations and businesses can provide a better service and also save time and money because there are fewer misunderstandings with the public. The public category in this year’s awards is a fun way for people to get involved and show what plain English means to them. The other categories will enable us to publicly acknowledge businesses and organisations that communicate in plain English.”

Commenting on the sponsorship, Declan Black, Managing Partner at Mason Hayes & Curran said: “Our job as lawyers often involves explaining complex information. We seek to do that clearly by using simple but accurate language. This approach applies particularly to the advice we give clients but also when we present a client’s position to another party or to a court. In our view, a good lawyer is always clear, accurate and, where possible, brief. So, we strongly support the use of plain English and are very pleased to sponsor these awards.”

An independent panel of plain English experts will judge the entries and decide on the winners in each category. The winners will be announced at a Plain English Awards ceremony in February 2019.

Enter the Plain English Awards at


For media queries, please contact:

Patrick Gleeson, NALA Communications Officer, 01 412 7916

Research about plain English:

Research by the National Adult Literacy Agency found that almost all Irish adults (95%) are in favour of business and organisations providing information in plain English. The research also found that about half of the respondents (48%) find official documents difficult to understand. Over a third (35%) also said that they found information from the public service and from the Government challenging. Over one in 10 (12%) said financial information was difficult to understand.

There are five categories in this year’s Plain English Awards.

Category 1 (open to the public). Best letter or email rewritten in plain English

Entries for this category will be in with a chance to win €500.

Has an organisation sent you a letter or email that has left you feeling confused and frustrated? Have you ever asked: Why don’t they just say what they mean? Now is your chance to show them how it’s done.

To enter this category, all you have to do is rewrite, in plain English, a confusing letter or email that you have received from any business or organisation. Please submit the original letter or email along with your own easier to understand version. Please submit all documents related to this entry as one file.

Category 2. Best use of plain English by an organisation

NALA is encouraging businesses and organisations from all sectors to tell us how they are using plain English. For example, have you provided plain English training to staff? Or does your organisation produce documents, for staff or for the public, that you think are outstanding examples of plain English?

Tell us, in 500 words or less, about your efforts to communicate more clearly, and why your organisation should be considered as a successful user of plain English. If you are submitting a document that you have produced in plain English please submit no more than five pages from it. Please submit all documents related to this entry as one file.

Category 3. Plain English – The impact

We want you to tell us about how using plain English has had a positive impact on your organisation or business. For example, since you started communicating in plain English to staff, clients or the public, have you noticed increased profit or an increase in people using your services?

To enter this category, please send us evidence of the positive impact of plain English. Please provide supporting statistics, analytics or anecdotal evidence that you have recorded. Please submit all documents related to this entry as one file.

Category 4. Champions of plain English

Is there someone in your organisation who is always saying that you need to stamp out the jargon or cut out the gobbledygook? We want to hear all about that person who is championing the use of clear communication. Tell us, in 500 words or less, about how they are trying to improve the way your organisation communicates.

Category 5. Plain English in the digital world

From websites and tweets to Facebook posts and LinkedIn articles, all organisations and businesses have information online these days. We want to hear from those who think they are communicating in a clear and easy-to-understand manner on their online platforms.

If you think your website is a good example of plain English, then you can enter this category by sending us up to four pages from the site.

You can also enter this category by sending us, in 500 words or less, some examples of your Facebook posts, tweets or LinkedIn articles that you think are good examples of plain English. Please submit all documents related to this entry as one file.

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