Keeping it clear Tips on providing information to an audience that is new to New Zealand

Keeping it clear Tips on providing information to an audience that is new to New Zealand

People from different cultures may prefer their information organised and presented in different ways. We must provide information that migrants can clearly understand and act upon.

Your audience - Why we need to keep it clear

A quarter of New Zealand's population was born overseas. Those new to New Zealand need clear information but they can find it challenging to understand the way New Zealanders communicate.

It can also be just as challenging for those of us who produce and write that information. So what works best for your newcomer audience may also work well for a broader audience too.

In putting together information for migrants we want to ensure it is informative, interesting and clear.

Your migrant audience

Many newcomers to New Zealand are English speakers, from countries such as Great Britain, South Africa, the USA and Ireland. But the fastest growing groups come from countries that are not predominantly English speaking, such as China, Argentina and the Philippines.

In any case we must provide information that migrants can clearly understand and act upon.

Even if a new migrant understands a bit of English or speaks it well – including as a first language – Kiwi English is often different from the English they know.

So it is helpful to remind ourselves of some tips by using this resource when communicating with newcomers.

Tips such as keeping messages short and simple. Using active language. Avoiding Kiwi expressions, idioms and metaphors.

Design is important too. Use easy-to-read fonts, lots of white space and clear images. ‘Keeping it Clear’ can help your communication with new to New Zealand audiences.

Keep it short and simple - important information first

This is a good rule for all writing, but it is even more important for an audience that is new to New Zealand. If the critical information is not the first thing they read, they may stop reading before they get to it.

Get to the point

If it is not crucial to your meaning, do not include it. Write about the facts that your audience need to know; extra information may confuse the reader.

Confusing:

Actually, the OECD has some very nice things to say about our educational system, calling us ‘a top-performing country in terms of the quality of its educational system’.


Clear:

The OECD refers to New Zealand as ‘a top-performing country in terms of the quality of its educational system’.

Use short sentences

Avoid long sentences. Check any sentence with more than 20 words to see if you can split it to make it easier to read. Sentences should be short and to the point. Try to express only one idea in each sentence. Try to avoid words that add little meaning to your sentence.

Use short words

When you use a longer word, some readers may skip to the shorter words that follow it. If this happens, your reader might miss important information.

Confusing:

Tax is one of those inescapable facts of life, even in New Zealand, but at least the experts here have developed a tax system that’s comparatively easy to navigate.


Clear:

Tax is a fact of life, even in New Zealand. But the experts here have developed a tax system that is easy to understand.

Reduce redundancies

Redundancies repeat what you are already saying. They can add another level of complexity for those new to New Zealand who may have to unnecessarily translate both words. Avoid them to simplify your writing.

Confusing:

A little forward planning and preparation will save a lot of time, frustration and stress in your job hunt.


Clear:

Planning will save you a lot of time in your job search.

Stay consistent

Try to use the same term consistently for a specific thought, concept or object. Using different terms can confuse your reader and may lead them to misinterpret your information.

Confusing:

There are several tools you could use, and choosing the right implement is important, so check first to make sure you have the correct equipment.


Clear:

There is more than one tool you could use, and using the best one is important. Check first to make sure you have the right tool.

Junk the jargon

Try to not complicate matters by using jargon that your new to New Zealand audience will not understand. If you really need to use a technical term you can, but remember to explain what you mean the first time you use it.

Too much negativity

Occasionally in English we include two negatives to make a statement more subtle. For those who do not have English as a first language, a double negative can make a sentence even more difficult to understand.

Confusing:

The situation is not uncomplicated.


Clear:

The situation is complicated.

Avoid contractions

Contractions (such as it’s, you’re, it’ll, they’re) may confuse those whose first language is not English. They can hide what is being contracted. It is best to write in full.

  • Contractions that end in ‘s can be mistaken for possessives.
  • An ‘s can be read as either has or is.

Mind your meanings

A lot of English words have multiple meanings. Think hard about whether a word you are using has another commonly used definition. If it does, consider an alternative, or make it clear which definition you mean.

Confusing:

That is the natural choice.


Clear:

  • That is the obvious choice, or
  • That is the environmentally friendly choice.

Keep it active and direct - use the active voice

When you write for those new to English it is best to use the active voice. It is simpler, clearer and more concise than the passive voice.

In fact, many other languages do not use the passive voice. Online translators, which migrants often use, also cope better with active writing.

While passive voice is useful in some situations, it can make the reader feel at a distance from the information. Passive voice is impersonal and it can cause the new reader of English not to take action.

Confusing:

The process takes up to 35 working days to complete once all documents have been received. 


Clear:

When we receive all of your documents, the process takes up to 35 working days to complete.

Be direct

Make a direct appeal when you give important information to get the reader involved or to get them to take action. A good way to do this is to use the pronoun ‘you’ when referring to your audience. Using ‘we’ to refer to your organisation also makes you more approachable.

When you use pronouns in your writing it enables your audience to picture themselves in the information. Direct writing means that newcomers are more likely to understand and act on their responsibilities.

Direct writing helps you to carefully analyse what you want the reader to do. It makes it easier to put information in a logical order, answer questions and clearly assign responsibilities and requirements to your audience.

Confusing:

After an application form is received, it will be processed and returned within 10 working days. Please make sure to include a return address.


Clear:

After we receive your application form, we will process it and send it back to you within 10 working days. Please make sure you include a return address.

Address the individual

Address your audience as an individual, not as a group. This will help you to avoid confusing plurals and gender references like ‘she’ or ‘he’.

Confusing:

Individuals who have been offered a place in an approved exchange scheme can apply for a student visa for the duration of his or her exchange.


Clear:

If you have a place in an approved exchange scheme, you can apply for a student visa for the duration of your exchange.

All jokes aside

You do not need to be an entertainer when providing information. Humour does not transfer easily across cultures. Your idea of humour could even offend your audience. This does not mean that your writing has to be dry and boring; if it is informative, interesting and relevant, you will hold the reader’s attention.

Give it a human face

Those new to New Zealand learn better from other people’s stories and experiences, rather than from abstract advice or instruction. If you can, find a relevant case study to help you put a relatable human face on your information. Your migrant audience will feel more connected to your information by picturing themselves in the situations you present.

The Kiwi context - choose your words

Those new to New Zealand can have difficulty understanding phrases and expressions that are unique to New Zealand English.

Te reo Māori

Māori words and phrases are a common part of New Zealand English. It is likely that most newcomers will not know what they mean. If you use a Māori word or phrase, remember to give an English translation or include a glossary.

Confusing:

After the pōwhiri, we will head back to the office for some kai.


Clear:

After the pōwhiri (welcome ceremony), we will go back to the office for some kai (food).

Yeah, nah

While it is tempting to introduce newcomers to some of our Kiwi words, this will make your information less clear for your migrant audience.

Keeping things simple means you need to try to eliminate Kiwi slang or colloquialisms. Check for words, phrases and expressions that may confuse newcomers.

Confusing:

In New Zealand workplaces, small talk with workmates in the smoko room is an important way of establishing and maintaining good team relationships.


Clear:

In New Zealand workplaces, talking to your workmates during breaks is an important way for you to get to know your team.

Tip

An example of Kiwi slang

Summer in New Zealand means going to the bach, having a barbie, and wearing shorts and jandals. But it is important to remember that in New Zealand our strong sun means that you need to be careful. If you are spending time outside this summer, make sure to use sun protection. Wear sunnies, rub on SPF 30+ sunscreen and put on a long-sleeved shirt. You can also get dehydrated, so if you go to the beach or on a long car trip it is a good idea to bring along drinks, and maybe a chilly bin, because you might not see a dairy on the way. Enjoy yourself and remember to be 'sun smart'.

Idiomatic language

Idioms are so commonly used that we are often unaware they are idioms at all. After all, there are over 25,000 idioms in the English language. Many relate to our culture, meaning that they may not translate well across other cultures or languages. This means that migrants can find some idioms difficult to understand.

It is a good idea to get someone else to check your writing for idioms. If you have a migrant in your organisation they would be best suited for this.

Here are some examples of job interview questions containing idioms. Think about how confusing these phrases may be for those from other cultures.

Confusing:

Have you ever got off on the wrong foot with someone?


Clear:

Have you ever started a relationship badly with someone?

Confusing:

Can you tell me about a time when you had to throw in the towel because you couldn’t achieve something?


Clear:

Can you tell me about a time when you had to quit because you couldn't achieve something?

Hidden metaphors

In English, metaphor is very common and can be much less visible than idiom. It is important to be aware of this when writing for newcomers because they may struggle with understanding them. This is because the meaning of metaphors is not always obvious.

If a word has another more literal meaning than the sense you are using it in, then it is most likely a metaphor.

Confusing:

The project has a lot of obstacles in its way.


Clear:

The project will have many difficulties.

Confusing:

The situation is looking up.


Clear:

The situation is improving.

Confusing:

She fought hard to get that result.


Clear:

She worked hard to get that result.

Clichés

Clichés are phrases or expressions that are overused. Idioms and metaphors can also be clichés. It is best for you to avoid these entirely.

Confusing:

At the end of the day, this problem has been dealt with. If it happens again I think it’s best to turn the other cheek. Still, every cloud has a silver lining!


Clear:

We have dealt with the problem. If it happens again, I think it is best to ignore it. We have learned something from this experience.

Confusing:

You’ll feel more involved and more part of the organisation, rather than being just one small cog in a giant machine.


Clear:

You will feel more involved and more part of the organisation, rather than feeling unimportant to the business.

Confusing:

Use this handy pre-departure checklist so you can hit the ground running on arrival.


Clear:

Use this handy pre-departure checklist so you are fully prepared when you arrive.

Formatting for clarity - Typography tips

No matter how clean and clear your writing style, if the typography is messy and cramped it will be difficult for a migrant audience to understand your message.

These days, many of us do our own basic design work rather than sending it to an expert. So it is worth knowing a few important design tips:

  • Use a clean, sans-serif typeface for shorter documents and on-screen reading, such as Calibri, Verdana, Arial or Gill Sans
  • Use a serif typeface for longer printed texts like newspapers and books, such as Palatino, Garamond, Times New Roman or Century Schoolbook
  • Use a clear point size (10–12pt)
  • Make line lengths shorter – they are easier to read (45–90 characters)
  • Avoid writing in capital letters – it distorts a reader’s mental picture of a word
  • Avoid underlining – it cuts off the downstrokes of j, p, q and y.

White space

Keep a good amount of space around text and in margins. Also put white space around images, graphics and lines or columns of type. This reduces visual noise by separating information. Your migrant audience can find solid blocks of text intimidating.

TIP

Optimal line spacing is between 120% and 145% of point size, so 10pt text should have a line spacing of between 12 and 14.5pt.

Clear images

Using pictures and diagrams to illustrate important points will help to make your information clearer to your audience.

They also break up the text and can provide readers with information in a way that may be more familiar or accessible.

Make sure your chosen image has no chance of giving the wrong impression or offending your migrant audience. Have a number of colleagues check the image and its cultural appropriateness before publishing it.

Informative headings

New readers of English can tire easily with lots of text on a page. Headings break up text to make it easier to read. They can also add meaning to each new section. Headings can be effective when posed as questions or as short, direct and active sentences.

Put some white space around them to increase their visibility. Headings should provide full context while still being short.

Legible lists

Including checklists and bullet points can help improve the clarity of your information. But too many lists can be tedious to read.

If you plan to use lists, it is important that you use short, simple and complete sentences.

Only use lists for information that would benefit from being presented in this way; for example, a series of steps, a checklist or a list of things to remember.

  Clear: 

 

  • Find out how to contact local settlement support services
  • Find out if I will need my own transport or whether there are local transport services I can use
  • Find out where to buy food 
  • Look for second hand stores locally if I need to buy furniture
  • Get the right clothes for the climate I am working in
  • Find out where to buy a mobile phone or SIM card.

Definite dates

Write these out in full, rather than day/month/year (20/01/16). Some countries order the days and months differently. The clearest way to write a date is ‘Monday, 20 January 2016’.

Friendly web formatting

People read differently on a screen from how they read on paper. They tend to scan a web page in an F shape, reading horizontally a couple of times, then down the left-hand side.

When you write for a new to New Zealand audience on the web it is even more important that your first two paragraphs contain your most important information. Start each subheading or paragraph with key words that your audience will notice when scanning down the left side.

Avoid lengthy pages as most people will not read to the bottom. If you have a lot of information, use hyperlinks to help readers jump to the sections they are interested in.