Plain Language Standard

Three reasons to get the WriteMark on shorter documents

Wide shot of a multi-level library with white staircases and bookshelves.

We’d love to help you achieve the WriteMark on the whole library of documents you use to communicate with customers | Photo by Niklas Ohlrogge on Unsplash.

Most documents that hold the WriteMark are on the longer side. Achieving the Standard takes time and effort. That time and effort feels better spent when — at the end of it all — you can proudly display the WriteMark logo on an important 100-page document, rather than an everyday 1-pager, right?

But which of your public-facing documents do people look at most often? Which do you think your customers are more likely to read from start to finish?

You’ll get the best value out of the WriteMark by achieving the Standard and displaying the logo on the documents that are most important to your readers. We’re willing to bet they’re not always your longest.

Here are three reasons why the WriteMark is right for shorter documents.

1. Short documents often leave a bigger impression on your readers

Consider which of your public-facing documents are the most important to you, and which are the most important to your readers. Are they the same documents? Or are you overlooking other documents that have more impact on your customers’ experience?

Three reasons to get the WriteMark on shorter documents WriteMark

Your longest documents might seem the most important, but readers often spend more time and engage more deeply with short, everyday documents |Photo by Beatriz Pérez Moya on Unsplash.

For example, lots of insurance product disclosure statements in New Zealand hold the WriteMark. A product disclosure statement (PDS) is the main policy document that sets out all the benefits, exclusions, terms, and conditions of cover. It’s an important document for both insurers and their customers.

But many customers will never read their PDS cover to cover. They’ll dip into a few sections as and when they need them. Making the PDS as clear as possible is still vital, but it’s unlikely to be the document that insured customers spend the most time with.

Instead, those customers spend more time on shorter documents: things like policy schedules, application forms, renewal letters, claims processes, websites, and correspondence. These ‘satellite’ documents may seem less important, but they’re the ones customers are actually reading. As a result, they play an outsized part in building confidence and trust.

That’s why getting short documents right can make a big difference, and leave a bigger impression.

2. WriteMark requirements make short documents focused and functional

The WriteMark Standard has 25 requirements, ranging from the ‘big picture’ (things like smart structure and clear purpose) to the minute details of language and presentation. Some of these 25 requirements won’t apply to short documents — this makes them easy to meet!

But for many short documents, the WriteMark requirements can help you consider improvements you might otherwise overlook.

For example, you might think:

  • structure is less important when all your information fits on one page
  • headings aren’t needed for a document of only a few paragraphs
  • a bullet list is unnecessary when you’re only asking a reader to fill out a form.

But following the WriteMark requirements for structure, headings, and bullet lists — among other things — hones short documents to make them their best, punchiest, most practical versions:

  • A smart structure ensures you deliver information in a logical order, so readers build their understanding and know what to do.
  • Headings summarise key messages, clarifying purpose and supporting navigation.
  • Bullet lists enable readers to scan information easily and create extra white space.

All these elements make long documents simpler and more functional, but here’s the secret: they work for short documents too!

3. Customers expect consistent quality across the documents they read

Displaying the WriteMark on your biggest documents is a visible commitment to caring about your customers. Adding it to the surrounding constellation of shorter documents creates consistency in your brand values across all your communications.

Customers expect consistency from the businesses and organisations they deal with — even subconsciously. A poorly written webpage or letter template will stand out like a sore thumb. One complex and ambiguous communication can undermine the caring and conscientious brand value reflected in the WriteMark.

If you can make something as complex as an insurance PDS clear, why leave a claims form or FAQs page in the dense and ambiguous Dark Ages? Achieving the WriteMark on shorter documents signals a consistent, clear tone across the whole array of interactions you have with your customers.

We can assess short documents in batches, so the WriteMark is more cost-effective

If you’re concerned about the cost, we can work out a deal. Because it doesn’t take as long to assess short documents, we’re often happy to do them in batches.

This makes it even more cost-effective to achieve the WriteMark for your ‘daily drivers’ — those short, significant documents that your readers encounter every day.

We’d love to help you get the WriteMark on your library of short documents. Contact us today to discuss your documents, your readers, and to get a quote.

Send us some information about your short documents and we’ll be in touch


Why the WriteMark matters more than ever in the age of AI writing

A woman in a tank top using a VR headset.

Photo by cottonbro studio / Pexels licence

One of our favourite plain language mottos adorns the wall in massive text at Write’s Wellington office. It’s from Sir Ernest Gowers’ book, Plain Words: ‘Be short, be simple, be human’.

It’s a motto that follows its own advice.

In the burgeoning age of ‘AI’ text generation, human writing for human readers is more important than ever. And that makes the WriteMark an even more valuable symbol of people-centric plainness.

Here’s why a quality mark for clear communication matters even more in the age of AI.

People-centric writing stands out in an AI-generated torrent

The WriteMark has always been a way to show your readers you care.

The heart-shaped symbol demonstrates your commitment to being clear, open, and customer-focused. It signals to your audience that you’ve gone the extra mile to ensure they understand what you’re telling them, which builds trust and confidence.

We think readers will particularly appreciate the WriteMark’s quality promise as AI writing proliferates. AI-generated text risks ‘infecting’ AI training data — the library of information that AI tools use to create their responses. This may degrade the quality of AI outputs over time, as they reinforce and amplify their own distortions and biases. Commentators have called this an ‘AI ouroboros’

Read about the ouroboros on Medium’s website

In this uncertain future of AI writing, the WriteMark will signify people-centric writing that gives readers confidence and helps to form human connections between author and audience.

Our human assessors give human insights

In a WriteMark assessment, qualified experts read documents, assess them against 25 carefully selected criteria, and produce a report packed with insights and recommendations. They apply a critical eye, drawing on their experience and understanding — as both writers and readers — to identify what works and what needs work. This experience and insight helps to shape documents that serve their writers — and their readers.

AI can do some incredible things, if you know how best to use it. By drawing from untold libraries of human writing and thought, it can generate convincing text and images in the blink of an eye. It can educate and entertain, adapting its tone and language for any conceivable audience. But AI is not critical, creative, or insightful — not yet.

Big-picture elements require critical thought

AI can provide lots of helpful advice for some of the more mechanical aspects of plain language, like sentence structure and word choice. But humans can still do a few things better — like thinking.

‘Artificial intelligence’ is a bit of a misnomer, because tools like ChatGPT and DALL·E 3 are not thinking or creating. They draw on vast sets of training data from the web and use predictive patterns to spit out realistic answers to prompts.

This means AI would struggle to meet or assess some WriteMark criteria, especially big-picture elements. It takes critical thought to determine whether a document has:

  • a clear purpose
  • an overall structure that helps readers to understand it
  • answers to all the questions a reader is likely to ask.

AI is improving constantly, and quickly. But answering these questions requires critical analysis and holding the ‘big picture’ in mind — skills that today’s AI tools can only imitate.

AI can be a cultural liability

Our assessors have another advantage over AI tools — their Kiwi cultural context and sensitivity.

AI tools draw on training data from all corners of the internet. This means they tend to replicate and reinforce existing biases in that data. Aotearoa New Zealand represents a tiny corner of the internet, so our cultural differences are easily overwhelmed by American and European norms in AI’s predictive patterns.

Why does this matter? One element we assess for the WriteMark is whether the document has an appropriate style and tone for its audience. Aotearoa’s cultural context is different from the rest of the world in lots of small ways — as well as the big ones, like the role of te reo and te ao Māori. The words we use and the way we express ourselves are distinct, as are our history, economy, politics, and culture.

AI tools are liable to get these small things wrong, because they draw from the wilderness of the World Wide Web. As well as setting the wrong ‘style and tone’ for our specific cultural context, relying on AI can lead to embarrassing and even offensive errors.

The WriteMark Plus gives unrivalled insight into how readers experience a document

On top of using human experts to assess documents for the WriteMark, we get human non-experts to test how well a document serves its readers for the WriteMark Plus.

User-testing with real readers always uncovers unforeseen sticking points. Human testers can help identify things like:

  • whether a certain word choice or section is confusing
  • whether a document’s structure matches readers’ expectations
  • whether a document is accessible to readers of all abilities
  • whether a document is practical to use in the real world.

AI is clever, and convincing. But there’s simply no substitute for testing a document with its target audience.

AI can be a powerful plain language tool — learn how to use it safely

While human expertise can’t be beaten when it comes to the high standard of the WriteMark, we still recognise the value of this powerful tool.

That’s why Write has added an AI Writing Insights workshop to our roster, and why we’re keeping up to date with advances in the field.

Check out our workshop, AI Writing Insights: Balancing Opportunity and Risk

Read our blog post about how to get the most from AI

How does the WriteMark compare to a new international standard?

Multiethnic businesswomen checking information in documents

We’ve mapped out how the WriteMark sits next to the new ISO Standard. We wanted to be sure our mark of plain language quality aligns with international best practice. And we wanted to understand where and why the two standards differ | Photo by Alexander Suhorucov on www.pexels.com

In June 2023, the International Organization for Standardization, or ISO, released Part 1 of its first-ever Plain Language Standard. The ISO Standard offers guidelines for writing in plain language, arranged around four organising principles. These establish that information should be relevant, findable, understandable, and usable.

Read our blog about the ISO Standard over on the Write website

How does the WriteMark® Plain Language Standard, developed here in Aotearoa New Zealand, compare to the new international standard? Do the two standards have any disagreements?

If your document holds the WriteMark, does it also meet the criteria in the ISO Standard?

Is the WriteMark keeping pace with international best practice?

Let’s answer those questions one by one.

Comparing the WriteMark to the ISO Standard

As we pointed out in our blog post on the Write website, the ISO Standard doesn’t include quantitative measures. It doesn’t give users a way to certify documents that ‘meet the standard’.

So, right off the bat, the ISO Standard does something quite different from the WriteMark.

The WriteMark logo shows that we have assessed a document and we recognise its excellence in clarity and presentation. The WriteMark uses 25 criteria to evaluate whether or not a document or website meets a high standard of plain language.

But although they have different purposes, the guidelines in the ISO Standard broadly align to the criteria in the WriteMark.

Here’s an example.

  • Guideline 5.2.4(a) in the ISO Standard says to ‘Use a new heading when introducing a new topic’.
  • To achieve the WriteMark, a document must have ‘useful, informative headings to guide the reader’.

The ISO guideline is more specific, but the WriteMark requirement captures the same intent.

Many of the ISO Standard guidelines go into more detail than the WriteMark criteria. The WriteMark simply asks if a document’s structure is ‘clear and logical to the reader’. The ISO Standard, in comparison, recommends:

  • placing the most important information first
  • separating supplementary information
  • presenting instructions in chronological order
  • and several more specific guidelines.

These guidelines are all part of a ‘clear and logical’ structure. The guidance in the ISO Standard and requirements of the WriteMark aren’t at odds — they’re doing different things, at different levels of detail.

The ISO Standard emphasises a different purpose

The ISO Standard and the WriteMark do, however, place emphasis in different areas. These differences are worth exploring.

The first area is the document’s ‘purpose’. For the WriteMark, a document needs to have a clear purpose, and its content needs to support that purpose.

Makes sense, right? We know that documents are most effective when they’re written with a clear goal in mind.

The ISO Standard, however, strongly emphasises the purpose of the reader. Writers should identify their reader’s purpose for reading their document, and put their readers’ needs first.

This also makes a lot of sense! Clear plain language documents put their readers first.

So which perspective is correct? Successful documents will fulfil both their readers’ and writers’ purposes. They’ll achieve what their author needs them to, while being entirely transparent and practical for readers to use.

The question is whose purpose is front of mind, and when. And that will depend on your document, your audience, and, of course, your own purpose for writing.

We explore this question further in another blog on the Write website:

Comparing the ISO Standard to the Plain Language Act and Write Plain Language Standard

The ISO Standard brings elements together under an umbrella of ‘cohesive’ writing

Another distinction between the ISO Standard and the WriteMark is in the idea that documents are ‘cohesive’.

The third principle of the ISO Standard, ‘understandable’, covers what we often think of as ‘language elements’. This means using familiar words, short and active sentences, concise paragraphs, and a reader-friendly tone.

The ISO Standard then collects these elements, along with the structure and headings from the principle of ‘findable’, under an overall direction to ‘Ensure that the document is cohesive’.

This means, in short, make sure all the parts of the document work together. They have clear and consistent relationships. They all serve a common purpose.

Unlike the ISO Standard, the WriteMark doesn’t have any one particular requirement for documents to be cohesive.

We’re already looking at how the elements of a document cohere throughout the WriteMark process. In a WriteMark assessment, we are checking that the words have a cohesive tone, that the structure presents a cohesive whole, and that the presentation elements are consistent and appropriate.

The guidance to write cohesive documents is handy, but as a requirement in the WriteMark it would only duplicate other elements we’re already assessing.

Does a WriteMark document meet the ISO Standard?

A document can’t ‘meet the ISO Standard’, because the ISO Standard is a set of guidelines, not requirements. But let’s put that technicality aside and rephrase the question in a way that we can answer:

Does a WriteMark document have the same quality of plain language as a document developed using the ISO Standard guidance?

To that we can confidently say, ‘yes’. Documents that achieve the WriteMark will also satisfy the ISO Standard’s organising principles. WriteMark documents are all different, but each one is:

  • purposeful and reader-focused to ensure information is relevant
  • organised and structured to make information easy to find
  • welcoming and clearly written to make information easy to understand
  • practical and concise to make information easy to use.

And this relationship goes both ways. If you follow the guidelines in the ISO Standard, you’ll develop a document that’s well on its way to meeting the WriteMark.

Again, we can find some differences in the details, but the two standards are well aligned overall.

For example, to achieve the WriteMark, a document must use mostly positive sentences. The ISO Standard doesn’t mention positive or negative sentences — possibly because it applies across languages, not just English. But its instructions to write concise sentences with a clear structure will ensure they are also mostly positive.

Updating the WriteMark to keep pace with international best practice

We want to be certain that the WriteMark reflects the best practice in plain language, which means updating it from time to time. The ISO Standard finally arriving after years in the making has been a good prompt for us to make some tweaks.

Following the emphasis in the ISO Standard, we’ve added a cue to the WriteMark assessment to note a document’s purpose and audience. This gets us and our clients thinking about the ISO Standard principle of ‘relevant’.

It’s a reminder to consider:

  • who you’re writing for
  • your readers’ context when encountering your document
  • what you and your readers hope to achieve with this document.

We’ve also added a reminder to the assessment about making documents cohesive. This notes that a document is cohesive if its language, presentation, and big picture elements all support its purpose and the purposes of its readers.

And we took this opportunity to align the wording in some of the WriteMark criteria more closely with Write’s Plain Language Standard, just to keep things tidy.

More resources

Download Write’s Plain Language Standard for free

Learn about the WriteMark criteria and assessors

Buy a copy of the ISO Plain Language Standard


Clear legal documents give clear legal authority

Person in orange sleeves signing a document

Naming a power of attorney means someone else can make decisions for you if you can’t | Photo by Romain Dancre on Unsplash

We all hope we’ll always be able to make our own decisions about our finances and property. But what if we can’t?

Anyone can lose the ability to deal with their affairs through accident or illness. If nobody has the legal authority to act for you or sign documents, dealing with your affairs can be difficult and stressful for you and your family.

A durable power of attorney allows you to give someone the legal power to deal with your affairs and make decisions for you. Setting up a power of attorney means that you control who manages your affairs.

Building a library of free-to-use legal resources

The Kimble Center for Legal Drafting, based at Western Michigan University–Cooley Law School in the US, specialises in writing easy-to-understand legal documents. Their mission is to produce clear legal documents that are free for the public to use in Michigan.

The Kimble Center has published a new Power of Attorney document. People can use it to name someone they trust to make decisions about their finances if they’re not able to.

Reaching the high standard of the WriteMark Plus

The new Power of Attorney follows the pattern of the earlier Power of Attorney for My Health Care. And it has been assessed as meeting the WriteMark criteria for purpose, structure, content, language, and design.

Eventually the Power of Attorney for My Finances also achieved the WriteMark Plus Plain Language Standard. The WriteMark Plus combines an elements-based assessment with user-testing. The results of user-testing led to further fine-tuning of the content.

Clear legal documents give clear legal authority WriteMark

Design elements guide the user through the document | Image by Gusto Design

Using careful design to support the purpose of the document

The Kimble Center engaged the team at Gusto Design to create a design that would support clarity and accessibility.

Annette Ellis, Creative Director at Gusto, explains:

Once again, we worked with the Kimble Center for Legal Drafting to make a complex process clear and easy to understand. The plain language used in the Power of Attorney form is visually supported using design elements that guide the user through the form, making it easy for users to understand and fill out the required information.

Instructions are provided as shaded boxes adjacent to the form fields, providing users with additional information that helps them understand how to fill out the form correctly. This extra guidance is critical to ensure the form accurately captures their wishes.

The form is screen-readable, and it has fillable fields that make it extra easy to use.

Clear legal documents give clear legal authority WriteMark

Clear design is critical to ensure the form accurately captures the user’s wishes | Image by Gusto Design

Creating legal documents with a difference

With its plain language and simple design, the Power of Attorney for My Finances joins its health-care companion as a legal document unlike most others.

Joseph Kimble, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at WMU–Cooley Law School, explains:

These two powers of attorney — one for medical decisions and the other for financial decisions — are unlike any legal document you are used to seeing. Both have been tested with users, and both of them are about as user-friendly as they can be.

The lesson? Legal documents do not have to be impenetrable to ordinary readers.

‘Clear and easy to read’

Achieving the WriteMark Plus gives the Kimble Center and users of their document library extra assurance that the document is as clear as it can be.

In this case, user-testing participants had lots of praise for the document. Here are a few of their comments:

It’s clear and it’s easy to read.

The layout and design of the document is clear and easy to read. It’s a five out of five. Lovely!

This certainly is concise, clear layman terms to tell them what the intended use is and then how to use it.

How easily explained each section of it is … I think it was really, really well designed and very self-explanatory. And just really nicely laid out and easily understandable.

Joseph Kimble enjoyed working with the teams at Write and Gusto.

This is the second project on which the Kimble Center for Legal Drafting has teamed with Write and Gusto. Both are a joy to work with. They deliver on time, and their editing and design work is superb.


Find out more about WriteMark Plus — the ultimate in communication excellence

The Kimble Center for Legal Drafting paves the way for innovative legal documents. This article on the Center’s website describes its origins and goals.


Start as you mean to go on — with clarity

Woman in pink blazer holds crumpled paper

Verity White of Checklist Legal believes plain language builds trust in client relationships | Photo courtesy of Checklist Legal

For a small-to-medium business, working with people who have similar values and goals is really important. Building a lasting and valuable client relationship relies on trust, and from the client’s perspective, that relationship starts at the point of engagement. So Verity White of Checklist Legal decided she wanted really clear documents to start off the client relationship.

She drafted the documents herself but decided to get some external help from Write and WriteMark. That way she could be doubly sure the client would know what they were signing up to and the relationship would start off on the right foot.

Checklist Legal makes legal advice clear

Verity’s company is all about taking the stress and confusion away from legal situations. One of the main ways she achieves that is through her clear, easy-to-understand advice. She creates readable documents that help her clients achieve their business goals.

Contracts are a core part of a business and reflect the way a business builds a client relationship. Verity is passionate about the ways that clear contracts support client connection and engagement, representing an authentic brand voice, so that the contracts feel like something that belongs to the business. That’s why achieving the WriteMark felt so important to Verity and Checklist Legal.

Verity tells her story below.

Using the ‘Rewrite’ principles to achieve clarity and develop trust

I first came across Write when I attended the plain language conference in Wellington, New Zealand in 2016. I absolutely fell in love with Write as a plain language organisation and with their Rewrite for Change programme. I knew I wanted to be involved with them in some way, shape, or form! And it took launching my own boutique law firm to make that opportunity come about.

Start as you mean to go on — with clarity WriteMark

Verity White of Checklist Legal was inspired by plain language principles to apply them to her own business | Photo courtesy of Checklist Legal

I thought my engagement documents were pretty good. I had met a bunch of the readability criteria that I had set for myself in creating them, as well worked on the information design. And then I got some really helpful feedback from the Write team, and they helped me refine things a little bit further.

Getting an independent peer review

Camilla Anderson, one of my other plain language and visual contracting heroes. always says that if you had two people speaking French and you wanted to simplify French into a different language, you wouldn’t get French people who only speak French to simplify that language.

So when it comes to simplifying legal writing, having someone else take a look at your own legal writing is often a great approach. It gives you a fresh eye, and it is that trained professional view that I really appreciated from having Write go through the documents. Of course, the ultimate decision on the legal bits and pieces of the documents sits with me. But I really appreciated the advice and patience of the Write team, as we worked through the finer points of the wording together.

Walking the talk by achieving the WriteMark and other certification

I wanted to be able to show that I was walking the walk and talking the talk when it comes to plain language, which I think is really important for law firms. A lot of law firms claim to be writing in plain language, but they really don’t go to the effort of getting their documents checked out fully. And I think that’s shown by the fact that Checklist Legal is the first law firm in Australia to have certified its plain language engagement documents with Write.

In very exciting news, Checklist Legal has recently become a certified B Corp! And I’ve published my new book called Create Contracts Clients Love — the title says it all really!

Check out Veritys book called Create Contracts Clients Love

Find out about Checklist Legals B Corp impact

Find out about Checklist Legals pro bono programme

Using words for good — an experiment in the power of care

Close up image of a heart-shaped leaf which is turning golden yellow. Bare branches in the background.

Lynda Harris conducts an experiment in the power of care through plain language. Image by DaMoJo / Excio licence

This B Corp month (March 2022), Lynda Harris explores links between being a B Corp and using words for good. Write, the company behind the WriteMark and WriteMark Plus, became a B Corp in 2021.

This blog was written for accredited and aspiring B Corps. But the ideas are relevant to all business writers!

Does being a B Corp improve the way you write? It certainly does for some B Corps.

A few years ago, I did a small experiment with some B Corps to see if their focus on being a force for good in the world influenced the way they wrote. And it did! I don’t know if all B Corps write clearly. But I do know that being a B Corp will give you a great head start.

Find out more about B Corps in Australia and New Zealand on the B Corp website

What made me do that experiment?

As a plain language professional for over 30 years, with a passion for training people in the art of clear communication, I’d seen some people transform their writing overnight simply by being encouraged to apply the age-old ‘golden rule’. Asking a writer to treat their client as they would like to be treated and ‘walk a mile in their shoes’ sometimes trumped more formal writing techniques. And almost instantly writers produced much clearer, more reader-friendly documents.

Since the notion of honouring ‘people and place’ is baked into B Corps, I wondered if the foundational concepts of care and empathy would naturally translate into a more effective, human-centred writing style from those firms.

Testing my idea

So I decided to find out if my hunch was right and interviewed several B Corps. To raise the bar, I picked a sector traditionally known more for obfuscation than clarity — law firms!
Here are some of the inspiring responses to my all-important question, ‘Do your B Corp values, especially your value of care, influence the way you write to clients?’

From Alexandra Doig, Managing Partner of Atticus Lawyers in Melbourne:

Yes! Telling people what they need to know and doing all we can to help, means we need to write like a human. We need to communicate clearly and personally in ways that don’t alienate. We can’t give a client a convoluted document. We have to walk the talk and act on what we believe in.

We could write a 10-page document. We try to write a 1-pager that clearly captures the most important info and that the client can easily understand and be comfortable with. It’s a calculated risk — with benefits. We want to write in a way that gives clients that lightbulb moment If a client doesn’t walk away with a greater understanding of their position than they had when they arrived, we haven’t done our job properly.

From Joel Cranshaw of Clearpoint, Australia

Yes! I say that for two reasons. Our retainer-based fee model means that we must work efficiently — so we must be clear, concise, and to the point. And what we believe in, our philosophical approach to compassionately meeting clients’ needs, also means that we must communicate in ways they can readily understand.

From Sophie Tremblay of Novalex, Canada:

Absolutely! We know that even the smartest people aren’t necessarily familiar with legal terms and concepts. So a huge part of what we do is to make the law understandable. We use concrete examples and remove the abstract, along with many other techniques such as metaphor (it’s like), and ‘this means’… We remove jargon and make important concepts stand out. We do what we need to do to be understood.

Accidentally using plain language techniques

Hearing Sophie’s list of useful plain language techniques, I asked if she had ever had any formal plain language training. She hadn’t. Nor had Alexandra, or Joel. Yet instinctively, motivated by strong human values and a sense of care, all three ticked so many plain language boxes.

Here’s what a sense of care, and a desire to connect and be helpful, prompted these firms to do:

Keep the content as concise and relevant as can be — thinking very carefully about what the client needs and sticking to that, avoiding cognitive overload
Use a layout that is carefully organised and makes important points stand out
Make it personal, putting yourself in your reader’s shoes, being ‘compassionately reader-centred
Focus on clarity, explaining concepts in a way non-lawyers could understand
Use metaphor or simile (it’s like) and reader-friendly interpretations (this means)
Avoid jargon

Without knowing it, they applied these key principles of plain language:

  • a highly personalised approach aimed at connecting and truly helping
  • clear organisation of content focused on achieving a specific purpose
  • clear, familiar language and a major attempt to explain unfamiliar concepts
  • a layout that signals key messages and supports comprehension.

And while achieving the above, they naturally applied more detailed concepts of plain language, such as writing in the active voice, favouring verbs instead of nouns, writing strong informative headings, and so on.

Since doing those interviews, I have informally looked at the websites of many other B Corps. My sense has been that a good number show a higher standard of clarity and connection than their non-B Corp competitors. And some are outstandingly clear and inviting.

So what do the results of my experiment mean for you?

First it means that your B Corp values are most likely influencing you to write with more care. That’s great! But rather than assuming, why not test your writing against a recognised plain language standard? You can download the Write Plain Language Standard here for free and use it as you wish in your organisation. Quite apart from putting your writing to the test, using the Standard will help you label some of the good practices you may already have and teach you some you weren’t aware of.

For some, perhaps those creating and retailing products, the focus on plain language may be easier.
But for others, working in industries known for complex concepts and language, it will be a bigger challenge. However, if lawyers can do it, you can too, right? (Shout out to Sharesies, the Cooperative Bank, Pathfinder, KiwiBank, and others who prove you can write warmly and clearly in the financial sector too!)

What’s the deal with plain language anyway?

It’s probably pretty clear to you by now that striving to create clear, human-centred writing has many practical benefits.

When you focus on the purpose of an email, you’re more likely to get understanding and the action you’d hoped for. When you focus on what the user needs to know, and begin with action words in a set of instructions, your user is more likely to follow them. When you put just the right content in a report, and use informative headings, your reader is more likely to keep reading. When you write your terms and conditions with a reader-friendly tone, using everyday words and making key messages clear, people are more likely to feel positive about them.

And at the big-picture level, plain language is essential to a functioning democracy in which all people can access their rights and understand their obligations. Human-centred writing makes everything work better.

But here’s the most important bit for you

Actively applying the ethos and principles of plain language creates a beautiful congruence between your values and how you show up in the world. It’s about authenticity and speaking in a voice that truly reflects who you are. It’s really at the heart of being a B.

Simplified general insurance policies get tick for clarity

Photo image of a tree fallen on a silver car

When it comes to claim time, everyone knows exactly what’s covered and what’s not | Photo by Michael Jin on Unsplash

Insurance policies have a reputation for being hard to understand. Vero and ANZ have gone the extra mile to make the ANZ Asset Protector policy wording booklet easy to read. The booklet of five policy wordings meets the Standard for being clearly written and user-friendly.

When customers are choosing an insurance policy, they look for one they can understand. A clear policy document inspires trust in the insurance provider and supports a long-term relationship between insurance provider and customer. When it comes to claim time, everyone knows exactly what’s covered and what’s not.

Clear writing and user-testing made the difference

All five of the ANZ Asset Protector policy wordings have been awarded the WriteMark Plus. The policy wordings cover homes, contents, cars, boats, and lifestyle blocks.

To get the WriteMark, the policy wordings were written using plain language to clarify complexity. To get the ‘Plus’, they were user-tested with a sample of their target audience. Writers used the feedback from user-testers to further improve the clarity and usability of each policy wording.

The five policy wordings are bound into a booklet, which is available in print, and as a PDF on ANZ and Vero’s websites. People can choose from the range of policies, buying as few or as many policies from the booklet as they need.

Read the ANZ Asset Protector policy wording booklet at the ANZ website

Delivering a great outcome for customers

Sacha Cowlrick, Vero’s Executive Manager Consumer, explains that delivering great customer outcomes starts with ensuring customers understand their insurance.  So working with their partners at ANZ to deliver plain language policies has been a priority.

‘It’s about making it easy for our customers to understand what an insurance policy does and doesn’t cover, as well the responsibilities they have. Clarity and transparency in the policy wording is the recipe for great claims experiences. We’re confident that the simplified language, layout, and navigation in our new policy wordings will deliver this clarity.’

Sacha said the feedback from user-testing showed this too, with some participants surprised by the extent of policy cover.

‘User-testing also enabled us to check the parts of the policy wording that previously caused confusion or surprise for customers when making a claim. The new plain language wording has passed the test.’

Worthy of the ‘Plus’ — tested by the target audience

Lynda Harris, Chief Eexecutive of WriteMark and Write Limited, says she’s excited to know the ANZ Asset Protector policy wordings are joining the ranks of documents worthy of WriteMark Plus.

‘Achieving the WriteMark Plus is testament to a lot of hard work and shows true dedication to improving the customer experience.’

The WriteMark Plus is only awarded to documents and websites that:

  • meet the WriteMark’s rigorous standards for clear writing and reader-friendly design
  • have been user-tested to confirm that both the writing, and the content as a whole, are easily usable by the intended reader.

Check out the full list of WriteMark and WriteMark Plus holders

Kimble Center’s healthcare form awarded ClearMark

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The Kimble Center's Power of Attorney for healthcare goes to new heights | Photo by Brands&People on Unsplash

Could the Kimble Center for Legal Drafting’s Power of Attorney for healthcare win any more accolades? Turns out the answer is a definite ‘yes’.

The ClearMark Awards judged the healthcare form worthy of the award for best legal document. The ClearMarks are organised by the US Center for Plain Language and recognise the best plain language communications created by organisations in North America. The Center’s Barbra Kingsley and Alex Miranda announced the 2021 winners as part of the Access for All virtual conference in May.

The judges said about the power of attorney that:

[it] is a wonderful example of making legal text accessible.

And they went on to say:

The writers conducted several different kinds of user testing, including with health professionals and typical lay users. They also benefited from input from the Center’s international board members and PL (plain language) experts in New Zealand. The effort shines through. It’s an exemplary piece, worthy of being winner in its category.

View the list of ClearMark winners

Read about the ClearMark award in an article by Oakland County Legal News

Taking legal documents to new heights

The Kimble Center for Legal Drafting paves the way for innovative, accessible legal documents. This article on the Center’s website describes its origins and goals. 

People can use the Power of Attorney document to set up a person they trust to make decisions about their healthcare if they’re not able to. The Power of Attorney is easy to understand and fill out — and it’s free to use for US citizens.

More than 1000 people have used the form since it was published.

Find out more about WriteMark Plus — the ultimate in communication excellence

Kimble Center’s healthcare form awarded ClearMark WriteMark

Design elements guide the user through the document. Image by Gusto Design.

Clarity counts when you’re accountable

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Clarity counts for business growth. Image by Micheile Henderson / Unsplash licence

Clarity, honesty, and respect all add up for a long-time WriteMark holder, Kendons Chartered Accountants.

Financial agreements can be taxing, but Kendons has found a way to communicate complex topics with clarity. They recognise that having the WriteMark on several of their key business documents supports their business need for clear communication.

Kendons’ business terms and key client letters all carry the WriteMark seal of approval for clarity. And they have done since 2012.

‘We are straight up. We believe in clarity, honesty, and respect. Making a difference for our clients is our thing.’

An ongoing commitment to keeping things clear

Kendons has recently updated their business terms to include changes in legislation. They wanted to make sure that the updated documents would still meet the WriteMark Standard. The new content covers complex topics, such as anti-money laundering and non-compliance with laws and regulations.

For the Kendons team, getting to the heart of how the changes might affect their clients is important — but so is explaining the changes as clearly and concisely as possible. Kendons also decided to use the update as an opportunity to check existing text.

The result? Kendons is proud to say that their 2021 terms and key client documents continue to carry the WriteMark — the quality mark of clear communication that shows you care.

Kendons has also championed plain language over the years as a valued sponsor of New Zealand’s Plain English Awards — they’re a company that’s walking the talk and doing good!

View the register of WriteMark holders

Clearly, it’s still Summer

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Summer KiwiSaver helps you on your financial literacy journey. Image by John Dame / Unsplash licence

Forsyth Barr continues its plain language journey with the latest update to the product disclosure statement for Summer KiwiSaver. For the sixth year in a row, Summer KiwiSaver has kept its WriteMark status by continuing to commit to clear communication.

The WriteMark Plain Language Standard shows readers that a document is easy to read and act on.

Trish Oakley, Head of Summer, explains why they’ve consistently sought the WriteMark as a hallmark of clarity for their document.

‘We want to show our commitment to plain language so that our investors can easily understand KiwiSaver, and make well-informed decisions about their investments.’

Financial documents change, but they needn’t lose clarity

When a document changes, it needs a quick check-up to make sure it still reaches the high standard demanded by the WriteMark. This time around, the updates were needed to reflect changes to legislation, tax wording, and processes.

‘Summer’s product disclosure statement is a living document’, says Trish, ‘and as it changes, we’ll continue to seek the WriteMark tick. That way, we’re supporting our investors in their financial literacy — helping them to understand the language of money.’

Clarity inspires trust

Here at WriteMark we commend providers like Forsyth Barr.

Write and WriteMark CE Lynda Harris says,

‘Information about investment affects decisions that have a far-reaching impact. Forsyth Barr has committed to clarity in a field that is known for its complexity. Their members can be confident that Forsyth Barr really does ‘walk the talk’ when it comes to putting customers’ needs first.’

Read Summer’s product disclosure statement
Read our earlier story about Summer KiwiSaver
Read Summer’s article about their commitment to clarity on their website
Find out more about getting a WriteMark assessment

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