Ban the bull: OECD

As more people join us on our crusade to rid the English-speaking world of business writing that doesn’t seem to speak English, we can only become a more powerful force.

The extract this month is taken from the website of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and details their Anti-Corruption Initiative.

In the bullring is the section from the General Information pages headed ‘Implementation mechanism’:

The Action Plan sets out an implementation mechanism with three main components: fostering policy dialogue and measuring progress; providing analysis to support the policy dialogue; and capacity building to enable members to thoroughly implement the reforms. Strong partnerships between member countries and with relevant regional and international organizations underpin this mechanism. Implementation of the Action Plan through this mechanism also helps members of the Initiative to achieve the standards embodied in other international anti-corruption instruments, such as the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and the UN Convention against Corruption.

The goals of this organisation are obviously both admirable and ambitious. Elsewhere on their site they refer to the need for systems that are ‘transparent’ and changes to be ‘concrete’. All that’s needed is for their writing style to reflect these same ideals.

The whole point seems to be humans interacting openly for the greater good. It’s nearly always beneficial to mention people in your writing, but particularly so here. Referring to ‘members’ isn’t a bad start; better still is to use ‘we’ and ‘you’ where appropriate to engage the reader (who may be a potential ‘member’).

Jargon phrases like ‘implementation mechanism’ will be off-putting for the reader too. Repeating ‘implement’ and ‘mechanism’ makes the language feel rather inhuman and mechanical, where it could be inclusive and dynamic. ‘Action plan’ works well alone for this effect; and you lose none of the sense if you simply say, ‘The Action Plan has three main elements’.

A few more ponderous phrases may cause the reader to give up: ‘fostering policy dialogue’ and, most confusing of all, ‘capacity building’. For the first, how about ‘encouraging talks about policy’? As for the latter, deciphering it may depend on the reader bothering to carry on to the section titled ‘capacity building seminars’, or getting out a dictionary. Although ‘capacity’ is a familiar word, in this context it might not be. Rather than risk losing the reader, try really saying what you mean. We (tentatively) suggest the alternative: ‘educating people and making them more receptive’. Yes, it includes more words. But it’s infinitely clearer.

The main point here is simply this: if your aim is for people to communicate openly in a clear manner, you may as well set the example.

A free copy of our style guide, The Write Stuff, is winging its way to the responsible citizen who sent this item in to us. If you come across any kind of document that sets your bull-detector bleeping, please email it to us and we’ll send you your own copy in return.

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