Careers advice - Bust that jargon! Plain English for planners

Written by: Jez Abbott
Published on: 8 Apr 2015

Steven FidgettNPPF, DPD, PPG, CLOPUD ... planners are notorious for acronyms and other jargon. The CLG (there's another one) even felt the need to publish its own Plain English Guide to the Planning System at the beginning of year. 

Yet what is planning if it isn’t about clearly communicating complex arguments? The more effective you are at this, the more likely you are to succeed in your career. The good news is that there are some simple short-cuts to producing sparkling text. 

Here are just a few:

  • Understand your audience. (No, I’m not talking about producing the local panto). This is the basis for all good communications. Who are you talking to? If you are writing material for a community consultation event, plain English is particularly important. Here, the language needs to be direct but not patronising. On the other hand, if you are writing for a planning appeal, your language should be more technical and formal.  
  • Slash that sentence. Ideally, you should be aiming for sentences of no longer than 20 words.
  • Don’t be pompous or use unnecessary planning-speak. Do you really need to say ‘amenity grassland’ or is it a ‘local park’? Is ‘public realm’ something your readers understand as ‘the square next to the library’ or should they expect a Royal Visit? Is that a ‘public house’ or a ‘pub’?
  • Avoid clichés and business jargon. ‘At the end of the day, we need to cascade decisions about our systemised paradigm shifts’ is unlikely to add to human happiness.
  • Use the active rather than the passive tense. So ‘we visited the site’, rather than ‘the site was visited by us’ immediately lifts the text.
  • Go easy on the acronyms. A paragraph littered with acronyms is tough on the eye. Sometimes, though, they are unavoidable. Out of courtesy, at least spell out acronyms in full in the first instance.
  • If you are struggling to write something, step away from the keyboard. Try telling a colleague what it is you are trying to say. Or imagine you are describing the issue to a friend outside work (if working from home, you can always declaim to the family cat). Explaining something out loud is a great way of getting to the heart of the matter.

Planning has an enormous impact on our lives. Good communication is often the difference between that impact being good or bad. 

Steven Fidgett is head of planning at WYG UK