As the Center approaches the close of 2017, we celebrate a prestigious award received recently by our founder and former Chair, Annetta Cheek. The Center’s international counterpart, Plain Language Association International (PLAIN), awarded Annetta the Christine Mowat Plain Language Achievement Award in September at its conference in Graz, Austria. The award honors a “significant contribution to advancing plain language at the local, regional, national, or international levels.”
Anyone who has worked with Annetta knows how truly fitting this award is. Not only was she one of the founders and Chair of the Center for Plain Language for over a decade, Annetta’s efforts and leadership resulted in the passage of the Plain Writing Act of 2010, which requires federal agencies to communicate with the public in plain language. This law represents a major victory in winning support for clear communication from the federal government and has given plain language advocates at all levels of government a strong basis for promoting reader-centered communication.
The Mowat award is named for Christine Mowat, one of the founders of the plain language movement in Canada. PLAIN renamed its bi-annual award after Mowat in 2011 in recognition of her contribution to the international plain language effort. Annetta praised her Canadian colleague, commenting that our northern neighbors began advocating for plain language even before we did in the U.S.
Annetta expressed her gratitude for PLAIN’s decision: “It’s an honor to be recognized with this award because I feel the plain language movement is so important, and being recognized by other plain language practitioners around the world is certainly gratifying.”
As Center Chair, Annetta also established the annual Federal Report Card, with which we give major executive branch agencies a letter grade for writing and compliance with the Plain Writing Act. On her watch, the Center also created the annual ClearMark Awards to recognize the best examples of plain language documents in the public and private sectors. Since retiring from the Center’s board a few years ago, Annetta has continued her involvement as a plain language advocate. She volunteers as a grader for the Federal Report Card and lobbies for additional legislation to require plain language for government regulations.
Susan Kleimann, current Chair of the Center, praised Annetta’s accomplishments: “We at the Center are grateful for Annetta’s work and her legacy. More importantly, though countless readers in the public and private sectors may never have heard her name, they continue to benefit from clearly written health information, government guidance, and financial explanations (to name a few) because of Annetta’s leadership. Congratulations, Annetta. You deserve this recognition.“
As we enter 2018 in a few days, may looking back on the foundation laid by a pioneer like Annetta refuel our own eagerness to promote the clarity in communication that our readers deserve.
About the author: Dr. Chip Crane is a writing consultant and trainer in Washington, D.C., helping clients with plain language in career development writing, technical writing, office correspondence, and other workplace documents. Chip also teaches medieval literature and technical writing at the University of Maryland.