Resources for clear writing initiatives in international organisations

clear writing tree

Ensuring that your audience understands what you’re trying to say is the aim of communication in any organization. Easier said than done, even if you’re communicating in only one language! International organizations not only have the additional challenge of communicating in several languages but must also take care because content written in English is aimed at a multilingual readership. So how can you make sure your message gets across?

Sowing the seeds

The European Commission is one of the many international organizations working on clear writing and looking into ways to address this shared communication challenge with others. The seed for developing cooperation between international organizations was sown when the Commission presented its clear writing campaign at the annual IAMLADP conference. Our campaign had already put down strong roots, but others’ campaigns needed a little help to take root, to flourish and grow.

The European Commission is well aware of the need to improve the quality, clarity and precision of their written communication in order to help the general public understand the European Union better. They have been running a clear writing campaign for 10 years, encouraging more than 30,000 of their staff to put clear writing principles into practice. They developed a series of resources, a program of workshops, and send weekly tips by email in order to raise awareness and help bring about a change in drafting culture at the Commission.

All of us share the same communication concerns, and just because we are working in a multilingual environment and communicating in our non-native language this shouldn’t stop us from writing clearly.

By bringing together clear writers from many other institutions, the Commission hoped to draw inspiration from each other’s ideas, to pool resources and materials, and to help nurture clear writing across the board. In the spirit of the new (virtual) normal, they organized monthly online meetings with clear writing practitioners from international organizations (United Nations, World Health Organisation, NATO, and many other EU institutions) across the world to discuss different clear writing-related topics. International organizations now have a hub for brainstorming, sharing experience, and resources on clear writing to help writers and translators work together towards the same goal.

Branching out

Support for clear writing is growing and some organizations are now working on creating their own tailored resources, such as style guides, weekly tips shared with staff and training sessions, inspired by the work they have seen which has been done in other organizations. The Commission too shared its vast catalog of resources and tips (among others ‘How to write clearly‘ booklet available in 24 languages) and these helped even more organizations start their own clear writing initiatives.

Discussions at meetings touched on common issues preventing us from writing clearly, such as impossibly short deadlines, complex document workflow, and documents written by multiple authors. A winning formula for helping the clear writing tree to flourish was found: involving editors from the start of the writing process, getting high-level support for clear writing to bring about change, and recruiting clear writing ambassadors to deliver the message.

These meetings will continue in order to encourage clear writing movement across international organizations and expand the network.

Want to learn more? Contact DGT-CLEAR-WRITING@ec.europa.eu