Writing for a local government audience means creating content that is accessible to everyone. Read on to learn more about the appropriate writing style for these types of communications, as well as tips on writing for inclusivity.
Throughout your career as a writer, you might find yourself writing external communications for a local government body such as a council. If you do find yourself doing this type of work, there are some rules to follow to ensure the writing is easily understood by the council’s audience – likely to be a complex and diverse range of people.
Before we talk about writing style and writing for inclusivity, let’s look at the purpose of local government communications, and who the audience is.
What are local government councils communicating about?
Generally speaking, local governments will be seeking to increase community awareness of activities, services, and decisions by proactively delivering clear, accessible, timely, relevant, and targeted information that seeks to build and strengthen relationships with the community.
What types of written content might a local council produce?
Some examples might be website and app copy, email newsletters, social media posts, marketing campaigns and scripts for customer service videos.
Who is the audience?
When writing for a local government audience, it’s important to remember councils tend to cover a large number of suburbs and localities which often consist of hundreds of thousands of residents, visitors, businesses, and social groups; all of whom are unique and have different ways of receiving information, different interests, and different communication needs.
When writing for a local government audience, you must be mindful that you’re not speaking with just one group of people, but rather a complex and diverse range of individuals. It’s also important to note that councils are not trying to communicate with everyone all the time. This is because specific council issues, initiatives or programs usually only relate to certain segments of a community.
What channels do they use?
When writing for a local government audience, you must remember to target the communications to the specific audiences that require the information and use channels that are accessible and familiar to them. For some audiences, this may be emails and websites, and for others printed flyers and posters. It’s as much about where you’re writing, as what you’re writing.
So how exactly should we write for local government audiences? Let’s look at two important considerations – writing style and writing for inclusivity.
When writing for a local government audience, use:
- Plain English that’s conversational but not overly casual or familiar. Avoid technical terms, jargon, complex words when simple, easy-to-understand words will do. If you do need to use a technical term, explain what it means in simple terms.
- with, instead of accompanying
- helpful, instead of beneficial
- stop, instead of cease
- Active voice, where the subject of the writing performs the action of the verb. For example: “You need to fill out the form below”, not “The form below will need to be filled out by you”.
- Personal pronouns in the first person (“we”, “us”) and the second person (“you”) that helps the writing sound like a conversation. For example: “Get in touch with us if you’re having trouble”, not “Applicants experiencing difficulties should contact our Customer Service Centre”.
When writing for a local government audience, always bear in mind that:
- 27% of Australia’s population were born overseas.
- 19% of Australians speak a language other than English at home.
- 3% of Australians identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander peoples.
- 44% of Australians aged 15 to 74 years have a “very low level” of literacy .
It’s important to make sure your writing can be understood by people with low literacy levels, and those who speak English as a second language. There’s also a chance your content will need to be translated into other languages, which is why it’s important to write in plain English.
When writing for a local government audience, use:
Inclusive language that’s:
- Gender-neutral (them, their, theirs, they’re, humankind, flight attendant, police officer). Try to rewrite sentences so they don’t include gender-specific singular pronouns. For example, “Submit your payment declaration” not “Every employee must submit his employment declaration”.
- Discrimination-neutral. Be mindful of language that involves gender and gender identity, marital status, sexual orientation, disability or impairment, age, mental health etc. Remember to speak to the person, not their difference.
- Device-neutral. People read content on many different types of devices, so use verbs that apply to mobile phones, tablets, desktops, and accessibility screen readers. For example, say “select” instead of “click”.
When writing for First Australian audiences remember that English might be a second or even third language for many First Australians. Avoid the terms:
- “Indigenous” when referring to people. Save this for describing non-human entities such as businesses.
- Aboriginals and Aborigine, because they’re associated with colonisation.
- ATSI, as this acronym is considered disrespectful.
- Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, because they are not a homogenous group.
When writing for a local government audience, ensure your writing is accessible to as many readers as possible. Local councils cover large areas that are home to thousands of different people, so make sure you know who you’re talking to in each piece of content, and be sure to consider literacy levels, cultural backgrounds, gender, and those who use assistive technology.
Remember: make your content conversational and easy to understand by using plain English, active voice and personal pronouns, and use inclusive language that speaks to the person, not their difference. Be mindful of the correct ways to refer to First Australians and remember your writing may need to be translated, so keep it simple.