David Cameron launches "clarity" award for "jargon-free" civil service communication

Prime minister urges Whitehall officials to make communications "brief, simple, human and jargon-free"

By matt.foster

16 Jul 2015

David Cameron has urged civil servants to avoid using jargon – and is offering officials who demonstrate good communication skills an "award for clarity".

Justice secretary Michael Gove made headlines last month when The Independent reported that he had sent guidance on the use of language to his own department, including advising civil servants against using "unnecessary" capitalisation or starting a sentence with the word "however".

However, the prime minister went a step further today with a post on the official civil service blog aiming to encourage the use of "brief" and "straightforward" language across Whitehall.

Related articles:

Terminological inexactitudes: handy translations of Whitehall jargon (Vol. 5)
Terminological inexactitudes: handy translations of Whitehall jargon (Vol. 4)
Terminological inexactitudes: handy translations of Whitehall jargon (Vol. 3)

While Cameron thanked officials for playing a "vital part in government and our national life", he said the civil service's values of "honesty, integrity and humanity" needed to be "accompanied by effective communication".

"All our communications with the public should be human, clear, simple, helpful and professional," Cameron said. 

"This means explaining complexity in everyday terms and translating jargon into simple English. If we can’t do that, we won’t communicate."

He added: "Ministers need clarity too. We’re surrounded by complex issues on which we must make important decisions. Civil servants may know them inside out, but ministers can’t know everything in detail. So we rely on you to cut through the complexity and cut out the jargon.

"Please be brief and use straightforward language. Ministers depend on your impartial, objective advice. We don’t want that advice wrapped up. If there’s bad news, we need to hear it. If there’s a problem, tell us clearly. But please try also to find a way round the problem and tell us that clearly too."

The prime minister said he would be asking every government department and agency to focus on making their communications "brief, simple, human and jargon-free", with senior officials expected to "set a personal example".

And he revealed that a new prize would be handed out at the annual Civil Service Awards bash – run by CSW's parent company Dods – in a bid to ensure that clear communication in Whitehall was "recognised, rewarded and publicised as an example for us all to follow".

Cameron's new award is not the first time departments have been encouraged to simplify the language they use.

Departments wanting to host services on the GOV.UK website are already advised to follow the Government Digital Service's style guide, which features a list of words to avoid, including "deliver", "collaborate", "countering" and "transforming". 

Now read these:
Terminological inexactitudes: handy translations of Whitehall jargon (Vol. 5)
Terminological inexactitudes: handy translations of Whitehall jargon (Vol. 4)
Seven things every government press officer knows are true


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