Friday, June 30, 2006

Writing Wrongs

The Daily Express became the latest daily newspaper to run a story critical of empty dwelling management orders on Wednesday. Like others it took the line that EDMOs were likely to be used to take homes away from the relatives of recently deceased people. The difference was this one claimed to have proof. A letter from a local authority that appeared to wave the threat of EDMOs to a couple who’s relative had recently died.

The Express do not have an on-line edition so no link I’m afraid. But I have seen the letter, and I know its author. I happen to like him so have no intention of giving him any more grief over this story. From what I have seen his letter was no worse and no better than majority sent out by local authorities on this subject. He just happened to be unlucky.

But this begs the wider question. If the average local authority letter is bad enough to cause offence on a national news scale is there something wrong? Well yes I think there is. There is a local authority style of writing which although improving is still like something out of a Victorian book of rules and regulations: Phrases like these are common:

The below signed officer

I refer to the above matter

It is the intention of this authority to…

The local authority’s policy on these matters is…

Should this not happen the local authority will have no option but to…

All written in the passive tense and the third person this style of writing sounds cold and impersonal and there is a hint of this is not me personally saying this it’s the local authority so don’t blame me if it all goes wrong. People don’t talk like this so it looks alien when they see it written. The effect is firstly people don’t understand what the local authority is saying and secondly the reader is immediately put on the defensive. Hardly the best start when trying to address a delicate issue like the future of an empty house.

To be fair some local authorities letter writing style is excellent and many try to communicate with their customers in other more modern ways, but for those still in the Victorian age you are making life unnecessarily difficult for yourselves.

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