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Plain language guidelines

Law Info NT aims to link to simple, plain language information and tools that help people understand and uphold their legal rights.

It also tries to connect people where possible with a range of other information resources that can help them learn about their legal rights.

Law Info NT has developed these editorial guidelines for choosing the best resources to link to – websites, factsheets, films, audio, posters.

We hope it inspires people to produce better information resources. Here is a pdf of these Law Info NT plain language resource guidelines if you want to download and use them.

The aim of these guidelines is to ensure that:

  • the website contains the best, most straightforward information for Northern Territorians;
  • material produced for the NT is audience-focused and meets the legal information needs of Northern Territorians on priority topics.

Plain language meets the audience’s needs by communicating clear messages. It enables people to

  • find the information they need,
  • understand it and
  • use

By developing Law Info NT, the NT CLE network wants to show how important it is that plain language is used in telling people in the NT about the law.

Below are Law Info NT’s plain language legal information guidelines, drawn from existing work in other jurisdictions (places) [1] and adapted for the Northern Territory’s unique people and situations. The guidelines cover both “elements” and “outcomes” for plain language. That means it considers the linguistic (language, grammar, words etc) and the visual characteristics (the design) to work out how well readers are able to understand and use a document. The guidelines are divided into four sections:

  1. Content
  2. Plain English
  3. Structure
  4. Design

Each section is an important consideration in producing plain language legal information.

Good examples of plain language material in the Northern Territory include:

This project was privileged to be able to draw on the extensive plain language research and practice in other jurisdictions and the Aboriginal Interpreter Service in the NT. For further information, please see:

Law Info NT editorial guidelines for resources

Include? YES / NO

Organisation:

Resource name:

Resource link:

1. CONTENT

  1. Indicates jurisdiction (NT or Cth)
  2. Has a clear purpose & intended audience
  3. Relevance to the audience is clearly identified
  4. Can be understood by its intended audience (and tested by users)[2] (Is accurate, clear, natural)
  5. Is from an authoritative body or author (e.g. has expertise in relevant area) and the author/organisation is clearly identified
  6. Is non-partisan / non-biased
  7. Is legally accurate
  8. Is current, and the currency (ie date of production/update) is noted
  9. Contains links to services and indicates at what point users should seek legal advice
  10. Written in clear, direct way, avoiding unnecessary detail, considering information load for audience
  11. Information includes examples and is clearly labelled as an example
  12. Uses a conversational, rather than a legalistic or formal tone

2. PLAIN LANGUAGE

  1. Where appropriate, is set out in an active voice and avoids the passive voice
  2. Mainly uses single clause sentences (one sentence, one idea)
  3. Minimises abstract nouns (replacing with verbs/adjectives where possible) or explains them
  4. Words and grammar are appropriate and familiar to reader, with unfamiliar and legal words defined separate to the main text (separating ‘what to know’ from ‘what to do’)
  5. Avoid words with multiple meanings, or words that are not used in their primary (ordinary) sense
  6. Avoids figurative language, unfamiliar abbreviations and acronyms
  7. Places cause before effect; put ideas in logical, chronological order

3. STRUCTURE

  1. Has a clear design
  2. Uses short headings to help predict what is coming up and to make the document clear
  3. Is ordered by: general (most important), specific, exceptions or IRAC – issue/relevance, law, application, actions
  4. Writing is brief and succinct: the average sentence is 10-15 words, and paragraphs are not more than 150 words

4. DESIGN

  1. Font types and sizes are easy to read (Recommend 10-12 pt sans serif typeface)
  2. Uses ‘bite, snack, meal’ approach. Most important points are repeated / separated from main text
  3. Avoids blocks of text
  4. Includes relevant diagrams, tables, charts, maps, illustrations, and text boxes to explain/break up text (e.g. charge sheets, DVOs, court room layout). Captions are supplied for all graphics
  5. Layout is clear/inviting, drawing attention to important parts, easy to read, containing white space
  6. The resource is available in multiple formats e.g. html, text, pdf (WCAG-accessible)
  7. Is accessible via mobile

COMMENTS:

If you have any questions or comments on these guidelines please contact: ntclenetwork@gmail.com.au

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[1] Specifically resources 1-4 above.

[2] See Step 5 here for a good checklist to evaluate your resource

This website gives general legal information. It is not legal advice. If you need advice for your problem, please talk to a lawyer.

Click here to find a legal service near you.

If there is information on this website that you think is wrong please contact us.

This website is a project of the NT Community Legal Education Network.
logo-ppt It has been developed with the generous support of the Law Society Public Purposes Trust.
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