Skip to main content
Civil Service

https://civilservice.blog.gov.uk/2022/08/16/a-simple-guide-on-words-to-avoid-in-government/

A simple guide on words to avoid in government

Downing Street sign

Sam Gregory is on a mission to root out jargon in government. He's here to explore the worst offenders and offer the best alternatives. 

As civil servants, our choice of terminology makes a huge difference to how the public understands our policies and our projects. Using certain words can even shape and change the policies themselves. For example, you might only realise the flaw in your policy when you have to explain it in plain English.

Avoid jargon

Using the wrong words can muddy the waters, and make our work less understandable to the vast majority of people who’ve never worked in the Civil Service. In the past, government has been notorious for communicating in its own highly-developed form of jargon. For example, think about the archaic language MPs use as part of the rituals of the House of Commons. This kind of language is often impenetrable to anyone who isn't already in-the-know, though sometimes it can be deliberate. The Plain English Campaign has some amusing examples of government jargon from recent years.

When GOV.UK launched in 2012, replacing the confusing previous website, one of the aims was to simplify the language of government. This helps everyone complete tasks (like registering to vote) quickly and with minimum fuss. The website's constantly updated style guide tells anyone who publishes on GOV.UK how to write for the site. We also use it internally on the Department for Education intranet, alongside our own education-specific style guide.

The guide contains a somewhat infamous list of words that you should avoid using on GOV.UK. Many of these are terms you will see in your inbox every day – some are so commonplace you might have stopped noticing them. For example, the word 'key' (unless it's a physical key that unlocks a door).

The guide points out that you can usually remove 'key' from a sentence and it makes no difference. Are the 'key stakeholders' actually just the stakeholders? Even if you need to qualify, words like 'important' or 'significant' are simpler and better for the job.

We also don't 'combat' problems unless the military is involved – we solve them or fix them. We don't 'streamline' or 'slim down' our departments or our projects – we simplify them or make them smaller.

Keep it simple

We never 'land' anything, unless it's an aircraft. 'Dialogue' is a needlessly fancy way of saying 'spoke to', and both 'collaborate' and 'liaise' really mean 'work with.'

rugby match
©Stefan Lehner on Unsplash

We don't 'tackle' anything unless we're playing rugby – instead we solve it, reduce it or stop it. Some words like 'overarching' can often be cut out completely. Think about whether there is any need to qualify. Is your 'overarching project plan' actually just the project plan?​​​​​​​

Metaphors should always be avoided – we're not aiming to win the Booker Prize. Many of these are outdated and make a policy announcement more confusing than it needs to be. For example, instead of a 'ring-fenced' budget, use 'separate' or just say 'money that will be spent on X'.

We don't 'drive' anything forward unless we're in a car, and we haven't opened a 'one-stop shop' as we're not a supermarket. We've probably launched a website.

Hot topic

This last example is a particularly hot topic for us on the intranet team. Every single week we receive requests to create a 'one-stop shop', a 'hub', a 'single front door' or a 'portal'. We often wonder whether we're expecting colleagues to open the single front door or step through the portal and find themselves in the one-stop shop. In nine out of 10 cases, what people really want is some new pages on our intranet.

Writing in plain English is better both for our colleagues in the department and for the general public. People should be able to understand what we're doing in government and what we expect them to do without having to wade through jargon, metaphors and corporate bluster. Check out the 'words to avoid' list on the GOV.UK style guide (under 'W') to make your writing simpler and clearer.

Sharing and comments

Share this page

109 comments

  1. Comment by Simon posted on

    I agree with the need to avoid jargon but it is a trap we fall into too easily. For example, on your bio it says you are a “user-centred content designer”. I have no idea what that is but, to you, I am sure it is entirely obvious.

    • Replies to Simon>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

      A very fair point. "Plain English writer" might be a better term!

  2. Comment by Desiree Yeo posted on

    Sam,

    Thanks for this really interesting & useful article. I find the comments also very helpful too!

    You mention that DOE has 'our own education-specific style guide.' Can you provide me a copy please? What DOE do may not be relevant to my department, but it would be useful for us to see, and we can learn from it.

    Thank you very much!

    Desiree

  3. Comment by David Pagel posted on

    Thank you Sam for highlighting (bringing to our attention) this important issue. I will be sharing this article (as if it were my property) with my office.
    One of Orwell's insights in the Politics And The English Language essay is that jargon and metaphor are designed to obfuscate and are often substitutes for thought. Others have pointed out their (often intended) alienating effect.
    One thing that really grinds my gears is Alphabet Soup. Repeatedly, people talk in acronyms whose meaning they do not know. I do believe that if you do not know what the letters mean, do not use the acronym until you have found out. I have asked around and often found that nobody knew the meaning of the term they had been bandying about. Worst of all, such terms are used in conversations with customers who cannot possibly understand them. IDK what they are thinking.

    Full disclosure: I am in 'Operational Delivery'. Whatever that is.

    • Replies to David Pagel>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

      Isn't "Operational Delivery" just doing stuff? 😂

      "Jargon and metaphor are designed to obfuscate and are often substitutes for thought" – that's a great quote, and so true.

      I might have to do a follow-up piece on acronyms, err, ASAP!

      • Replies to Sam Gregory>

        Comment by JamesGrove posted on

        This comment tickled me, mainly because i run events for the Operational Delivery Profession. 🙂

        Basically Operational Delivery does kind of mean "doing stuff", however specifically being part of Operational Delivery means that you work directly with the public, or support those that do. I'll confess that it does seem a little confusing.

        Sam this entire topic seems very interesting and we'd love to have you deliver a session on the topic at one of our events. I think our audience would love to hear more.

        If you're at all interested, drop me an email at james.grove1@hmrc.gov.uk

  4. Comment by Brendalyn Bond posted on

    Thanks for the article...thought provoking indeed!
    Albeit, I'm no expert on 'big words' as they are termed in my small world. In trying to see the bigger picture, simplifying language is all good however, shouldn't we be mindful of displaying discriminating behaviours towards those who would like to continue using words such as 'collaborating, liaising, hub, deep dive' and all the other words/sentences that are deemed 'commonplace'. We don't want to leave anyone behind in this inclusive space that civil service is trying to create.

    • Replies to Brendalyn Bond>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

      A fair point Brendalyn!

  5. Comment by Rhiannon posted on

    I enjoyed your article Sam and I've really enjoyed reading through the discussion around it in the comments. What a provocative topic the use of language is!
    For me, it would be good to see a list of words to avoid, alongside their replacements. Makes it easier to read and check against.

    Again, really enjoyed this piece and the conversation it's inspired. I absolutely appreciate clear direction when the process requires it e.g. passport applications. Joining the Civil Service a few years ago, it definitely took time for me to accept "deep dive" and "land <comms, people, projects>" into my vocab. I've also recently heard the phrase "plugging in" used in the context of introducing one person to another or to a project i.e "I'll get you plugged in to Luke and what he's doing in X/Y/Z". Jargon springs up like weeds - just when you think you've removed them all, there's new ones to take their place!
    It's true across society in general though, children in school "creating" words to exclude adults from their youth-dictionary, groups of people using certain language which denotes their culture or place of origin.

    Great topic !

  6. Comment by martyn mellis posted on

    I worry that some of the language used in the modern workplace alienates colleagues who prefer simple plain language; I am wondering if there is a social mobility element too - eg those colleagues who had a longer / better education are more accepting of the flowery speak. I sit in some meetings and a word / phrase is used that leaves me cold and spend the next 5 minutes trying to work out what it means.

    • Replies to martyn mellis>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

      Yes definitely Martyn – the effect is to make people who didn't get a certain kind of education feel excluded at work

  7. Comment by Geoff Simpson posted on

    Great post Sam.

    • Replies to Geoff Simpson>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

      Thanks Geoff!

  8. Comment by Gian Amat posted on

    Perhaps we need all need a copy of George Orwell's Newspeak dictionary?

  9. Comment by Phil posted on

    When I was at school, we studied George Orwell's 1946 essay 'Politics and the English Language', on which he later drew when describing newspeak and its derivatives in his novel '1984'. It is still worth reading, and I believe is still studied in schools, as some things never change!

    https://drmarkwomack.com/pdfs/politics-and-the-english-language.pdf

    Clear language is a must, but we should be careful not to oversimplify it so we lose the richness of expression and nuance that makes English so emotive, as in newspeak.

    • Replies to Phil>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

      I agree Phil – it's about finding a balance. But if the topic is something straightforward like registering to vote, the language should be as simple as possible!

  10. Comment by Roy posted on

    Final paragraph of the blog - "general public" - is that the same as "public"?

    • Replies to Roy>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

      A good point Roy!

    • Replies to Roy>

      Comment by Pliny the elder posted on

      Isn't General Public a high ranking member of the public?

      Should it be generic, rather than general?

  11. Comment by Gordon Campbell posted on

    Ar last people on the same page as me! The English language is beautiful but idiots are dumbing it down, Shakespeare, Austen and Spurgeon must be turning in their graves!
    My own pet hates, "going forward" as opposed to what, going backwards? "Reach out" - I'm not listening to Motown or top of the pops!
    Mark Seacombe did an excellent piece on this some years ago.
    I work in 'service delivery' but don't deliver pizza or mail , maybe its time for yet another re-branding?
    Time to write up the minutes from yesterdays monthly meeting - wish me luck!

  12. Comment by Gordon Young posted on

    'Launched a website'? Surely following the theme of this article, only ships and spacecraft are launched?

  13. Comment by Al Stephenson posted on

  14. Comment by Susanna Hill posted on

    Why is an investigation or analysis a "deep dive"? I think that the simple words are the jargon sometimes.

    • Replies to Susanna Hill>

      Comment by Sarah posted on

      I am not a fan of 'deep dive' either

    • Replies to Susanna Hill>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

      I absolutely loathe "deep dive". They may be two simple words, but put together as a phrase they're jargon!

  15. Comment by Simone posted on

    Thought provoking, and I like plain English that doesn't alienate people and explains things properly, but also some words are used for a reason. Delivery isn't just doing something. For example - service delivery: you provide a service that is needed and people use it. It is about both things, provision and uptake. It encompasses much more that just making something available, at least that's my understanding. But I guess you could 'enable uptake' if you wanted to go there instead? I'm all for that. And it would prevent people 'doing to' others instead of 'with'.
    Oh dear, more jargon. But for a very good reason...
    It would also be very boring if we had to use and read the same words over and over. I wonder how many times I would have to put 'work with' in my objectives? Collaborate is shorter than saying 'work with others'.
    And I'm passionate empowering people. Powerful word, used for a reason. We should challenge the use of words like 'patient' which to me are more insulting and we use without thinking about the implications.
    Definitely, context is 'key' though! I can do without 'bandwidth' (are you working in radio?), 'going forward' (where else unless you have a Tardis) and 'across the piece' (which piece? cake?) - pretty sure no one actually writes these though? just management speak!

    • Replies to Simone>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

      Lots to think about Simone! On the point about "patient", I would find it odd if I was in hospital and was referred to any other way. If I'm in hospital I'm (temporarily) a patient, just like when I'm on a train I'm a passenger. That doesn't mean that staff don't need to treat you with respect of course! 🙂

  16. Comment by Laura Brown posted on

    "Liaise" does NOT mean "work with" - it means to exchange information or serve as a link between two organisations. "Work with" is also a vague term. If organisation X "works with" organisation Y, does that mean one is contracted to deliver services to the other? That they're working as equals under a partnership agreement? Or just that one occasionally asks the other for advice?

    Guides like this always break their own rules in the course of laying them out, and this one is no exception - if "metaphors should always be avoided," then is the "hot topic" in the last section literally burning someone's fingers?

    • Replies to Laura Brown>

      Comment by Simone posted on

    • Replies to Laura Brown>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

      That's a fair point Laura! 🔥

  17. Comment by Amy Price posted on

    Great article Sam. We're on the same mission here at the Intellectual Property Office; to simplify our terminology and speak more in our customers language. Any tips on how to educate people within the organisation in how to write in plain, accessible English and be on board with our objective to improve the way we communicate?
    Thanks
    amy.price@ipo.gov.uk

    • Replies to Amy Price>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

      Hi Amy, that's really good news!

      Definitely ask colleagues to check out the 'Writing for GOV.UK' guidance, which is extensive and really informative: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/content-design/writing-for-gov-uk

      The Hemingway Editor is also a really useful (and free) tool to get colleagues in the habit of writing in plain and straightforward English: https://hemingwayapp.com/

      • Replies to Sam Gregory>

        Comment by Judit Marriott posted on

        Hello Sam,
        I have just checked the link https://hemingwayapp.com/.
        It is not free! It cost $19.99.
        Do government departments have a generic login?
        Please advise.
        Thanks

        • Replies to Judit Marriott>

          Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

          Hi Judit, the web version is free. I think you only have to pay for the desktop version.

    • Replies to Amy Price>

      Comment by Shane MacKean posted on

      Amy,
      'be on board with...'? And apologies for being a grammar pedant, but if you are going to write about 'our customers' language' then you need to know where to insert a possessive apostrophe.
      Shane MacKean

  18. Comment by Claire posted on

    "On a mission", "root out". Two offenders before the body text even begins and I don't spot any irony. This only goes to show how complex using 'plain English' is when some terms are so entrenched in use to not even be noticed by those who are familiar with but aiming to avoid them.

    I agree with making communications easy to understand for their target audience but to simplify everything loses understanding that only less 'plain' words bring. Not all synonyms mean the same.

    • Replies to Claire>

      Comment by Alan Rider posted on

      Haha. Well spotted! Semantics is an absolute minefield (anther banned word!) and everyone has a view. GDS used to have a poster and laptop sticker that said 'The Strategy is Delivery' and its easy to understand. I can absolutely relate to that. 'The Strategy is Make' just doesn't have the same ring! There are no right answers here I guess, just different views.

      • Replies to Alan Rider>

        Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

        I would go one further Alan: do we need to have a poster saying that in the first place? Surely actually doing stuff is what all government departments do...

  19. Comment by Paul Taylor posted on

    Someone should tell Civil Service HR and recruitment teams! Civil Service jobs is awful at describing what the job is, and how you apply. It has tons of useless information. What you need is usually buried at the bottom of the page. As for applying if you don't put in a certain number of Civil Service buzz words you don't get past the early sift stage.

    • Replies to Paul Taylor>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

      I agree Paul, and there's also the very real risk that by using 'in-house' language we just end up employing more people who look and think like us.

      • Replies to Sam Gregory>

        Comment by Julie Cousins posted on

        Yes Paul, we've partly created this monster ourselves, with the use of these 'buzzwords' which came into usage a few years ago. Mostly management-speak, but I remember rolling my eyes on more than a few occasions. We used to call it 'over-egging the pudding' back in the day. Simple concepts in plain and straightforward English works for most of us, really. Great blog, Sam!

    • Replies to Paul Taylor>

      Comment by John Harvey posted on

      Absolutely.

      The new CS 'Success Profiles' is littered with bizarre words (there is a complete 'dictionary' of them) that are supposedly to be trotted out by candidates in interviews to convey whole paragraphs of meaning (if it were to be written). Mindless 'newspeak'.

      HMRC is also a prime offender for meaningless jargon.

    • Replies to Paul Taylor>

      Comment by Paul posted on

  20. Comment by Peter Jordan posted on

    Sam - it might be useful to read the early history of GDS/GOV.UK at https://gds.blog.gov.uk/story-2010/.

    Directgov had already done some strong work to close down a lot of government sites, but many still existed, including Businesslink.

    • Replies to Peter Jordan>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

      Thanks Peter, that looks really interesting. I'll give it a read! 👍

  21. Comment by Paul Flint posted on

    I like the idea, and tried in my own small way to do this as a director in a Family Health Services Authority in the 1999s. Surely, however, ‘on a mission’ in the opening line of this article is a good example of jargon?

  22. Comment by Patrick McEvoy posted on

    If we 'launch a website', doesn't it have to 'land' somewhere?!

    • Replies to Patrick McEvoy>

      Comment by Lesley Jones posted on

      If the websites are hosted in a cloud then would they still need to land?

  23. Comment by M Fulford posted on

    Clarity, precision and limited use of jargon is important, but what about when the art of writing when we want people to feel something? There must be a place for emotion, even in work. People are government and a government serves people much as businesses are run by people and serve people. What are people if not flesh, breath and emotion?

    That said, I agree we talk in code too much, even if I do enjoy the passion that well crafted words can produce. My plea is for us not to forget the impact we can have with intelligently written words.

    • Replies to M Fulford>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

      There is, of course, a place for other types of language when we want to inspire people or move them. But content for basic government services, like registering to vote or applying for a passport, doesn't need to have any emotion in it.🙂

  24. Comment by John Holdsworth posted on

    > Sam Gregory is a User-centred Content Designer

    a what?

    • Replies to John Holdsworth>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

      I'm aware of the irony John! Can you think of a plainer version of the same job title? 🙂

      • Replies to Sam Gregory>

        Comment by JR posted on

        If the content is this post, then "blogger". If it's art then "artist". I'd need to know the type of content before simplifying.

        "User-centred" should be redundant; all design should be user-centred. But I understand putting current priorities inside job titles.

      • Replies to Sam Gregory>

        Comment by Susanna Hill posted on

        Hello Sam, how about "Content Designer"?
        My most-hated jargon term is "kick-start". It's everywhere! How about "start" or "initiate"?
        The only thing that needs a kick-start is a motorbike. And they usually have an electric start button today.

        • Replies to Susanna Hill>

          Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

          I agree about "kick-start" – surely it has a very specific meaning, which is to jolt something that's currently inert back to life.

      • Replies to Sam Gregory>

        Comment by Andrew Pinder posted on

        How about "Sam Gregory writes webpages in plain English"?

  25. Comment by Oren posted on

    Entertaining and thought provoking piece, Sam. And, if we are to look at the, er, overarching theme of the post, I'd concede that the point is well delivered...
    However,
    Language, and English more so than many others, developed over time with almost infinite nuance. This serves us in an artistic and creative way that conveying words in their most simple form just cannot do.
    Our audience often needs to be taken on a journey which includes an emotional element over and above the factual one. The art of storytelling and persuasion cannot exist in a world where we are only trying to simplify things to be plain and direct. I was glad to see one of your previous replies where you concede that choice of words and style should always be down to wider context.
    I'd hate it if future generations end up with an English which is not as rich and creative a language as we enjoy today.

    • Replies to Oren>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

      I agree Oren, but that kind of writing should be left to the world of fiction or the opinion pages of a newspaper!

      We don't need to write in an "artistic and creative way" if we're telling people how they can apply for a passport. 🙂

  26. Comment by Chris posted on

    So the strategy is *not* delivery?

  27. Comment by Zahida Arshad posted on

    the impact of this is felt when completing job applications. using simpler plain English seems to de-value the application and on courses I have attended, candidates are often encouraged to "jazz up" their application with jargonistic words for fear of coming across too simple in the application. If you want plain English then take that into consideration in job applications

    • Replies to Zahida Arshad>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

      I absolutely agree – there's no need for jargon in job applications! 🙂

  28. Comment by Mike Copinger posted on

    Language is the one essential element that defines an individual or a nations ability to create, evaluate and execute effective ideas.England has always been a world leader in this space defining the worlds business language and its most successful legal systems. Why? When mastered, English is one of the single most precise languages in the world.

    To master the English language is to master the best concepts, to master persuasion, to be able to expertly define problems – the essential first step in coming up with the most effective solutions.

    Our world is replete with positive role models that demonstrate this from Douglas Murray to Jordan Peterson to Chris Higgins et al.

    If all your stakeholders are in the room – except the one who has the ultimate decision authority then you are, in point of fact missing your “key” stakeholder. That’s simply an immutable fact.

    Streamlining conveys a transformation in shape to overcome a pervasive resistance in a way that “slimming-down” never can. Streamlining does not mean to reduce in any way.

    Any project plan may well prove insufficient in its scope having failed to be sufficiently overarching in its design.

    “Ring fenced” makes emphatic the point that these are resources specifically reserved for a pre-defined contingency, not simply allocated for expenditure.

    I could go on. I suspect that might prove too verbose.

    In the end, if you cannot say what you mean - you can ever mean what you say. English is the one language that gives you gift of unequivocal precision.

    Instead of the lazy rush to the bottom, to dumb everything down, we should take on the much more challenging task of raising everyone up, of giving people the motivation to improve their vocabulary.

    When you raise up the people, you raise up the nation and the future of our great nation rests on our ability to define our challenges and their solutions, with precision.

    • Replies to Mike Copinger>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

      Except that legal language and business language is the opposite of precise language – its whole purpose is to make straightforward concepts seem mysterious to the person on the street. 😉

      • Replies to Sam Gregory>

        Comment by Tom B posted on

        No it isn't - the purpose of the language is that phrases act as shortcuts between people who understand their context. It's not designed to exclude anyone. And we all use latin phrases all of the time (e.g. 'per se', etc.)

        • Replies to Tom B>

          Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

          If a defendant is in court, and they don't understand something that's been said because the lawyers or the judge are needlessly using a Latin term when an English one would do ("de jure", "in camera", ipso facto"), I would argue that they're at risk of being excluded from the justice process. 🙂

    • Replies to Mike Copinger>

      Comment by Helen Striebig posted on

      I totally agree with these comments. Yes we can all laugh and groan about when jargon is used unthinkingly but more often than not it is a convenient shorthand (as all language is), And you are right, the answer is not to dumb down the language - unless we are having to communicate with a broad range of the general public. You realise how much the promotion of Plain English has spoiled our use of language if you pick up a book written in the 19th century - the richness and nuance of expression from authors like George Eliot has been utterly lost. Boring, boring, boring!

  29. Comment by Hugh Morgan posted on

    If you deny the use of jargon, to which people pin their careers, how ARE people to get promoted? 😎

    • Replies to Hugh Morgan>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

  30. Comment by Gavin Stephenson posted on

    Really interesting article - keeping things simple is important as people really need to communicate better, so thanks for sharing.

    The discussion about power and language is interesting. The use of deliberately confusing words runs through academia, professions, frameworks - everything we talk about where we need to improve things.

    The one area I have a different view on is metaphors. Metaphors do introduce some language challenges, but are so powerful in helping frame complex things into more understandable things. These can help achieve shared understanding, alongside a bit of motivation to do something.

    Keep up the good fight - a Content-der. 😂

    • Replies to Gavin Stephenson>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

      Thanks Gavin! It's really interesting when you think about how some areas (especially the law) put incredibly straightforward concepts in Latin for no other reason than to make them intelligible to a select group of people.

      Metaphors can be useful, but I would argue there's a lot of very straightforward government services where they're not needed. 🙂

    • Replies to Gavin Stephenson>

      Comment by H posted on

      Indeed - they frame it rather well!

  31. Comment by Nigel Williams posted on

    Excellent article Sam with great feedback for exceptions to consider.

    A simple rule I’ve asked my intranet and web teams to follow in various industries is “think like a new starter”.

    Readers shouldn’t have to think or have barriers to understanding content. Common barriers include acronyms, metaphors, poor accessibility and unnecessarily complex language.

    I’m about to join the Civil Service so I appreciate a lot of this approach may already be in place. However, if it is, it’ll be the first organisation I’ve joined or consulted for which does it in 15 years.

    Hopefully, if this helps a colleague (always a colleague, never a user) understand a piece of content, it has been worth sharing.

    • Replies to Nigel Williams>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

      Absolutely – and the Hemingway Editor app helps you write like a new starter!

      https://hemingwayapp.com/

      • Replies to Sam Gregory>

        Comment by Nigel Williams posted on

        How have I not used the Hemingway app before? This is superb.

        I’ve been using the Flesch ease of reading tool in Word for years, oblivious to this, thank you.

        • Replies to Nigel Williams>

          Comment by Sa posted on

          It's so much better and simpler!

  32. Comment by Steven C posted on

    Certain groups will use a certain lexicon - knowledge of that lexicon allows feelings of belonging to that specific group to grow. This helps generate trust and psychological safety, therefore better COLLABORATION and outcomes. And metaphors are a proven technique to help with understanding complicated scenarios and concepts. Humans the world over use metaphor to make a point. Keep it plain and simple for public consumption but colloquial words and phrases in a business context is fine isn’t it? Let’s not make a mountain out of a molehill.

    • Replies to Steven C>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

      "Certain groups will use a certain lexicon - knowledge of that lexicon allows feelings of belonging to that specific group to grow"

      Another way of looking at it is that a certain lexicon excludes anyone outside that specific group from understanding straightforward concepts (think of the use of Latin in the law). 🙂

  33. Comment by N Carne posted on

    “We’ve probably launched a website”. Using the simplicity of your own helpful advice can you really launch anything that isn’t a boat? Haven’t you just created a website?

    • Replies to N Carne>

      Comment by blossom posted on

      a rocket 🙂

      • Replies to blossom>

        Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

        Fair point!

  34. Comment by Kenny Nixon posted on

    This direction gets watered down to the point where it’s ignored within departments. Leaders need to lead by example.

    • Replies to Kenny Nixon>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

      Absolutely. This stuff often comes from the top!

  35. Comment by Steven O'Donoghue posted on

    Great article, thanks, very thought provoking. I notice you are silent on the beloved acronym, so widely used across the Civil Service?

    • Replies to Steven O'Donoghue>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

      Maybe one for a future article! As a user-centred designer, I'd always spell out an acronym at first mention unless it's incredibly well-known (NASA, for example 🚀)

  36. Comment by Shaun Hullis posted on

    Please teach everyone the difference between “likely” and “probably”, as well as how to use “may” and “might”.

  37. Comment by Milhouse Van Houten posted on

    Yeah 'front door' always confused me, but also "commission" or "go to consultation" or 'theory of change" are annoying 'professional' ways of saying really simple things.

    • Replies to Milhouse Van Houten>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

      Yep. Also "what does good look like?" is one I really don't care for.

    • Replies to Milhouse Van Houten>

      Comment by Patrick McEvoy posted on

      Buildings have 'front doors'. Rooms don't. Teams don't. Services don't. Ticketing systems don't.

      Only thing worse is a 'single front door'.

  38. Comment by Peter W posted on

    Another suggestion, found in this blog: can we please replace "our choice of terminology" with "the words we use"?

    • Replies to Peter W>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

      Good spot! You're absolutely right.

  39. Comment by T Hunter posted on

    Hmm. Needs more work. The trouble with this is you’ll never get it all right (correct, accurate, precise 😄) all of the time. The important objective is to make people think about what they write.
    Collaborate conveys far more than “work with”. You can work with many teams, divisions, units, depts, but collaboration implies partnership, shared effort, shared burden, over a period of time. I’ve worked in 34 countries for my current department (44 in total for HMG) and most of those involved true collaboration. And we had certainly had “dialogues” too; continuing conversations on matters of mutual interest, over a meaningful period of time, at working and senior decision-maker levels. So, really nothing at all like the one-off passage of information or query conveyed by “spoke to”. Please make sure that your guide draws on a wide enough, and experienced enough, range of sources, and that you caveat that your guidance really only contains suggestions and is in no way definitive…😅

    • Replies to T Hunter>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

      Thanks for your thoughts. It's intended more as a provocation, not a definitive guide. 😊

  40. Comment by Jodie Wiltshire posted on

    Excellent. I was asked to write a plain English guide for an organisation. I included a section with jargon and overused words to avoid. But I was told to remove this section because the teams used all these words and liked them. Reaching out and being authentic were very popular.

    • Replies to Jodie Wiltshire>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

      This is a common problem! We've had push-back to using plain English at DfE on the same grounds, sadly. Good and straightforward communication needs to start at the top.

  41. Comment by Jo-Ann Moran posted on

    Thank you for writing an interesting and insightful blog. However, if I may, I would like to challenge the following:

    Avoid 'empower', use ‘allow’ or ‘give permission’

    As a disabled person, I feel the suggested wording is an insult to my community. For example, The transformation of GOV.UK where accessibility has greater consideration for people with disabilities, I'm empowered to be on a level playing field with my peers. I certainly feel insulted if the perception is, by making such changes, I've been 'given permission' to use the services available within GOV.UK. Am I supposed to feel grateful?

    Can we give due consideration to this please?

    • Replies to Jo-Ann Moran>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

      You're right, but of course it's always about context. Maybe the word 'empower' would be the right word to use in this context, but not in another.

      • Replies to Sam Gregory>

        Comment by David Nethercott posted on

        Jargon is always about context - the area in which it is being used. A lot of the words in the list to avoid have very specific meanings in certain areas. In those areas, those bits of jargon are useful to reduce word count and get across a clear point quickly and easily. It's true that using the same jargon somewhere else might cause confusion and wouldn't be considered plain English. The important thing is to understand your audience and make your communications as clear to that audience as you can. If that involves using jargon that the audience would understand, then that's fine.

      • Replies to Sam Gregory>

        Comment by Jo-Ann posted on

        Hello,

        Thank you for taking the time to reply. Whilst I agree with you, I still sturggle with the suggestion that we 'allow' or 'give permission' as opposed to using 'empower' - perhaps its a personal opinion. However, it is still a great blog to offer food for thought.

    • Replies to Jo-Ann Moran>

      Comment by John Hill posted on

      And teaching seems to be especially prone. Very rarely are they teaching “young people” , society seems set on turning children into adults far too fast. My view, and I believe that of the law, is that until they are 18 or arguably 16 they are children.
      Of course it’s important when they are delivering high quality education in a learning environment setting to be mindful of the mental health needs of the young people to whom the are responsible that they clarify the objectives to deliver effective outcomes in the exams necessary to ensure their young people perform at the top of their game in order to ensure the outstanding outcomes to enable those serving on the governing body a significant opportunity to award the Head Teacher and other contributing school leaders valedictory increments in remuneration.

      Sorry got carried away there

  42. Comment by Cliff Sale posted on

    But how will anyone ever complete a job application again?!!
    Great article - the worst examples are where language and terminology is used to assert dominance and deliberately exclude others - so from an inclusion point of view, we really should be challenging this and encouraging a more honest and simple conversation.
    And as far as I'm concerned, the only people who should ever "reach out" to somebody are The Four Tops.

    • Replies to Cliff Sale>

      Comment by Sam Gregory posted on

      Or Depeche Mode ("Reach out a touch faith!"). I agree that the purpose of jargon is usually to exclude, or to signal that the piece of writing in question is for a certain type of audience (think of all the legal jargon in court).

      • Replies to Sam Gregory>

        Comment by Si posted on

        Maybe we will get it done in fast fashion! 😀

    • Replies to Cliff Sale>

      Comment by Andrea posted on

      I totally agree Cliff! It took me 3 tries to get my role as I didn't use certain words/phrases at interview stage. You have to know the CS Behaviours and quote them precisely almost to prove you are "one of us". I hope the HR process has changed.