Dominic O'Reilly: Why don't you say what you mean?

Public sector press releases full of jargon and buzzwords make me think 'Heaven facilitate us'. When I worked in local newspapers, the staff played 'public sector bingo' with press releases, scoring points for finding such terms as 'silo management', 'customer empowerment' and 'person-centred dialogue'.

While some in the sector write clearly, others produce rubbish. One gem I remember included: ‘High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process.’ What it meant was ‘children need good schools if they are to learn properly’.

At Media Trust I run writing skills workshops, and public sector PROs can be the hardest to help because jargon is inherent in their culture. Some delegates agree with what I suggest, but say their managers would not let them write that way, or that the jargon would only be reinserted. Others insist they are comfortable with words such as ‘facilitate’ and ‘stakeholder’. But whenever I hear ‘stakeholder’, I just think of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Many public sector employees use words or phrases to make them feel important and one of the gang – the verbal equivalent of the Emperor’s new clothes. Misunderstandings through poor communication waste time and money, and it’s not just incomprehensible leaflets, memos and newsletters. A nurse told me a patient once made a formal complaint after spotting ‘SOB’ on his notes. Turns out it referred to ‘shortage of breath.’

It is easy to improve writing skills, and PROs could make better use of the help available. See George Orwell’s essay, Politics and the English Language. It is free online, so anyone can use it to help them. Or should I say it is low-hanging fruit, so integrate it and run it up the flagpole to see if it facilitates user empowerment?

Dominic O’Reilly is director of communications services at Media Trust, a registered charity.

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