Government language inquiry wants your help

30 March 2009

The House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) is currently exploring how government uses - and misuses - language and is calling for people to send in examples of the good, the bad and the ugly of official language.

How can I help?

Have you received a letter from government or seen an official leaflet that struck you as a really bad - or really good - example of official language? Perhaps the language used was confusing, riddled with jargon or simply meaningless gobbledegook. Or perhaps it got the message across clearly and effectively to the target audience.

We’d like you to send in your examples of official language, and we’re looking for two different kinds of example.

First, we are looking at how well government bodies communicate with people in day-to-day life. Examples might come from information you’ve received about paying your taxes or in the course of accessing health care or other public services, from a letter about a planning application or from an official leaflet you’ve picked up or found online.

Second, we are also examining how government communicates more generally - including how people within government communicate with each other, and with the wider world. You might have examples of language from government reports, job advertisements, consultations, government websites or other documents.

We’re looking at official language in the widest sense, so examples might come from government departments, local government, public bodies, the NHS, educational establishments or other parts of the public sector.

How will the Committee use what I send?

We will look at all of the examples we receive, but we cannot use them all. We will select the most striking examples to help spark a debate about how government uses language. We aim to hold one or more public hearings with witnesses we will choose.

We will probably want to publish some of the examples. If we do so, we will endeavour to remove any personal information and keep any personal details strictly confidential. If you have any concerns about confidentiality, please make us aware of this when you send your examples in.

What should I not send?

Please do not send us:

  • examples on which you want us to take any kind of action, beyond what we have set out above (we are unable to follow up individual cases)
  • examples which contain personal information about other people
  • more than two or three examples.
  • long examples, or e-mail attachments larger than 1 megabyte

Where should I send the examples?

Please email your examples to:

If the example is on the internet, please just send us a link.

If you do not have email access, please post examples to:

Public Administration Select Committee, Committee Office, First Floor, 7 Millbank, London SW1P 3JA

It would be helpful if you could send in specific examples, ideally of no more than 500 words, and if you could highlight the parts that you would particularly like to draw to our attention. Please include your name and contact details and the source for your example (such as a web address or the title of the document it comes from). We need to be able to check that the examples we receive are genuine.

What is the deadline for submissions?

We will probably not be able to consider examples that we receive after Thursday, 30 April 2009.

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