Thursday 19 June 2014

PM: Be simple, direct in govt communications

Civil servants, politicians asked to use language people can understand
By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 18 Jun 2014

CIVIL servants and politicians should be simple and direct when communicating with the public, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

In a Facebook post, he told of how he had sent his colleagues an article by Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway bemoaning tech giant Apple's use of "business gibberish".

Mr Lee said the article is a reminder to them to be "simple and direct" in "informal conversation, a speech, or a press statement".

"Avoid management speak or big words which will not impress anyone," he advised. "Use simple language which people can understand."

The PM said he makes it a point to craft simple and clear Facebook posts which he also edits. Ministers and civil servants have tried to be direct and clear in their communication with the public, said Mr Lee, though he admitted that they do fall short at times. He suggested that a website should be set up to collect examples of poor government communication in an effort to help it improve.

Communication experts said the Government has made efforts in recent years to convey policies in a more succinct and digestible manner.

Associate Professor Augustine Pang of Nanyang Technological University pointed to one recent example when the Government announced changes to the MediShield Life insurance scheme.

He said the rationale and impact of the changes were explained clearly through the media, but he added that "the technicalities, such as the subsidy level and how to apply for subsidies, could have been better explained".

Using less jargon was one major area where experts felt government agencies and businesses could improve. Veteran MP Charles Chong said: "Sometimes, government policymakers assume that the general public will understand the complicated terms that they use regularly during discussions with their colleagues."

Public relations firm Asia PR Werkz managing director Cho Pei Lin said one way to avoid using jargon is to think about "speaking and writing for lay people".

"Ask your family member or someone who has no background knowledge in the content," she said. "If they have no idea what you are saying, then you will have to think harder about conveying your message better."

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