It’s no coincidence that the WriteMark logo is shaped like a heart. From a flicker of frustration in the late 90s to ‘the Oscars of plain language’ today, the notion of heart has pulsed through.
Heart in the sense of care and commitment to customers, and heart in the sense of backbone and determination.
In 1999, after almost 10 years helping people write better business documents, Write Limited’s Lynda Harris felt a growing discontent.
‘I felt that we weren’t yet making enough of a difference.’
With a few notable exceptions, we were still being asked to train groups of 12–14, rather than whole organisations. This meant that the effect of the training was often quickly undone by well-meaning managers. The pull of business-as-usual was strong.
‘A lot of our clients openly said they wrote in plain English, or had set that as an expectation, but in the thousands of business documents that passed through our hands each year, we saw very little in practice.’
It was crucial to get everyone to truly see what clear writing looked like, and to understand the profound effect it had on relationships and revenue.
Two things were needed: a clear standard of plain language and an easy way to show when something had met that standard.
In 2000, Write began working with the UK-based Plain English Campaign and its badge of clarity — the Crystal Mark. The Crystal Mark showcased organisations that really cared about communicating clearly and openly. And it introduced both a quality standard and a way of recognising you’d met it.
But the UK-priced Crystal Mark proved too expensive for New Zealand businesses and didn’t feel relevant for our market. After 2 years, Lynda knew she had to try again with something just right for New Zealand.
It took time, courage, and commitment, but by mid-2004 the idea for New Zealand’s homegrown WriteMark had started coming to life.
‘We were a small, highly skilled company, passionate and dedicated to spreading the plain language message. If we were going to launch our own mark, it had to work.
‘We held focus groups in the public and private sectors and did extensive research into international plain language organisations. We set and refined the elements that make up the WriteMark Standard, and set up a training and moderation process for assessors.
‘We based our fees as low as we could to encourage all New Zealand organisations to invest in plain English. We offered free WriteMark assessments to organisations that had already advertised a commitment to plain English. They could immediately see the benefits of a standard-based assessment.’
On 1 March 2005, the WriteMark launched, and it didn’t take long for businesses and government to take notice.
Over the years WriteMark’s assessors have checked hundreds of documents against 28 criteria, and helped writers make changes where their documents don’t measure up.
The WriteMark criteria reflect internationally recognised benchmarks for plain language and clear online communication. They include plain language, usability, suitability for the target audience, and design.
Although grown in New Zealand, the WriteMark also distinguishes quality documents and websites overseas.
Recent recipients of the WriteMark say the quality mark is the ultimate achievement for advocates of plain language. It reassures readers that something is clear, expert, and has reliable information that people can follow.
Achieving the WriteMark shows your genuine care and consideration for customers, with a side effect of saving time and building trust.
Today, holders of the WriteMark can go even further to show they’re committed to excellent communication with customers. WriteMark Plus combines an expert assessor view with insights from the people who matter.
A WriteMark Plus quality mark shows that you’ve also rigorously tested your content on real people in your target audience
For Lynda, it has always been about real people and using the power of words for good.
‘People can communicate their ideas and get the information they need. And ultimately it leads to a fairer, more respectful society.’
A society with heart.
Anne-Marie Chisnall September 10th, 2019
Tags: clear language, clear thinking, clear writing, improved writing, industry standards, plain language, power of plain language, Quality writing, user-testing, WriteMark Plus, writing for the public