Questions and answers

This page only shows real questions people have asked, not the questions we wish people would ask.

What's this all about - in a 'nutshell'?

PlainLanguagePro is a certification trademark, similar to the well known ‘Australian Made’ or ‘Woolmark’ trademarks. It shows an information product, a document or web text, meets the trademark rules or standards. These rules have been reviewed and approved by the ACCC and IP Australia.

Authorised certifiers assess whether a document meets the standards. To become a certifier a person must have completed a recognised training course, answer the questions on the application form, and submit three example documents. Existing certifiers check that new certifiers have the competence to make judgements about a document. There is no charge to become a certifier, but there are some ongoing obligations.

When a document is certified it must be registered and uploaded. There is a small fee for this: $30 – $90 + gst depending on certification level. Documents are randomly selected for QA reviews to make sure the standards are being applied consistently by all certifiers.

Having a document certified demonstrates a commitment to plain language information products. It gives document owners confidence a document is fit for purpose.

Is it possible to become document certifier as a professional working outside Australia?

Yes! You may become a PlainLanguagePro certifier no matter what country you work in.
Currently, only documents written in English may be certified, but we would like to broaden that. We are looking for plain language professionals who can provide advice about writing plainly in other languages. Please contact infoplainlanguagepro.org if you have this expertise.

What's the certification process?

The process to become a certifier:

Complete the form here and email supporting documents. Other certifiers will assess your skills and experience against the required attributes.

The process to certify a document

  1. the certifier judges whether the document meets the standard, using whatever process they choose
  2. the certifier registers and uploads the document on the plainlanguagepro.org website.

How have the PlainLanguagePro standards been set?

The big idea behind the standards is “a document is written plainly when the target audience can understand it.” So, the standards are focused more on the user and the process used to develop the document rather than solely on the text.

The standards reflect and consolidate the recommendations of plain language experts and authors across the world. The different levels of certification provide different levels of confidence in the document. The certification trademark rules are reviewed in January each year – please send improvement suggestions to info<at>plainlanguagepro.org.

The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) has judged the PlainLanguagePro certification standards to be suitable and beneficial. (ACCC Final Assessment)

The PlainLanguagePro series of certification trademarks has been registered with IP Australia – trademark number 1803065.

Why must certified documents be registered, and why is there a fee?

Documents must be registered before displaying a PlainLanguagePro mark so that we can check that any document displaying the mark has genuinely been certified by an authorised certifier. If we didn’t do this, anybody could copy the mark and put it on a document. Registering documents gives both document owners and document users confidence that the document has met the standards.

The modest fee covers the cost of administering the certification scheme, with a little profit.

None of my clients have asked for document certification, so how will this work?

Getting document owners to know about and want PlainLanguagePro certification is important.

We’re driving this mainly from a risk management perspective – see the-risk-of-writing-functional-documents . Risk thinking about documents is a shift for most organisations, but makes sense to people once explained. We’re also talking with some lawyers and insurers about the idea of reckless writing.

Most previous efforts to promote plain language have been based on it being a good thing to do – good for readers, good for business, good for the community. All that is true, but virtue is hard to sell. We’re hoping adding some risk thinking to the mix may help change attitudes and behaviour.

Won't certifiers just end up paying for document registration themselves to keep their certification?

That is not the intent. Being a certifier provides an additional income stream for plain language professionals. We expect certifiers to build registration costs into their contracting charges – it’s not much in the context of most of writing jobs. And it delivers tangible, worthwhile benefits to document owners:

  • confidence in the effectiveness of the document
  • risk reduction.

Most document owners like the idea of having their documents certified, even though it is something they may never have thought of.

How do we deal with confidential documents?

Confidential documents can be password protected before being registered and uploaded.

If a confidential document is selected for a QA review, we’d need to check with the certifier that the document owner was OK with the review process. If not, we’d need to find another document the certifier has worked on to review.

Archiving documents on Amazon Web Services S3 keeps them secure.

The time demands on certifiers to assess applications and other certifiers' documents is too demanding.

There is an annual page limit for document QA reviews to provide some certainty about expectations and likely time commitments. We’ll review these in response to feedback from certifiers.

We are very keen for the system to include peer assessment processes – we do not want to set ourselves up as some gurus or know-it-all experts. There are many fine plain language professionals producing excellent work.

Can you provide more guidance about what testing is required for the GOLD standard?

We’re working on a case study that will provide more guidance.

We’re not expecting anything too sophisticated or expensive – something as simple as a structured interview with half a dozen users would do. It’s all about driving a mindset that document testing is a vital part of the writing process; we should never just write something and float it ‘out there’.  Over time we may be able to lift expectations for the GOLD standard, but I think we are starting from a very low base.

Who should pay for document testing: the client or certifier?

The costs of document testing should be paid by the document owner, in the same way that they would pay for testing any product before releasing to the market or using it in their business.