Jargon alert

This is the 300th entry on my blog, and being laid up and feeling sorry for myself I thought I might allow myself a little wallow.  I have been working this summer on the third edition of Social Policy, which in this edition is also going to bring in material from Policy Analysis for PracticeSocial Policy lays out the architecture of social policy as a field of study, and it represents twenty years’ work.  It’s been published in several countries, including Japan and India – this next edition will be translated into Serbo-Croat – and I’ve tried to make it as helpful as possible to an international readership. However, as a text-book, and a third edition to boot, it won’t feature prominently in the British universities’ great quadrennial egg and spoon race. It won’t even line up with the starters.

If anyone would like to comment on a draft, it would be helpful: the only way to be sure that a book is clear, comprehensible and accessible is to check that it all makes sense to other people. I have to confess however that the current draft does contain some words which are disapproved of in the Government Digital Service’s newly published style guide. The naughty words include:

  • dialogue. Civil servants shouldn’t use this, the guide suggests, because it only means ‘we speak to people’. It would be more polite, and possibly more instructive, if sometimes they listened to the other side of the conversation as well.
  • key. The guide explains: “A subject/thing isn’t ‘key’ – it’s probably ‘important’.” The idea of key intervention depends on the belief that you can pick out one or two elements of a complex problem and change in the other elements will follow. For example, guaranteed interviews for people with disabilities probably aren’t ‘important’, because they don’t affect many people directly, but there’s an argument they might just be key to changing recruitment policies.
  • robust. I explain in the book: “‘Robust’ policies are policies which allow for future changes in direction. Some policies don’t.”

They’re also not keen on words like empowerment, collaboration, promotion or facilitation – words we have taken to using because the task of government is less and less to do things itself, more to help other people to do them. Is the problem a matter of language, or of approach?

One comment

  1. Amanda Bassett

    I would very much like to help/comment on the draft of your book.
    How long have ‘delivery, streamline and progress’ been government ‘buzz-words’? The Style Guide also says ‘be concise’ then in the next breath don’t use words like ‘slimming down’ instead say ‘we are removing x amount of paper work’. No wonder the public don’t understand what The Government means half the time as it appears The Government doesn’t know either.

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