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Cutts gives keynote address to ECA seminar

[17 June 2014] The European Court of Auditors hosted a seminar in Luxembourg in May on ‘Plain language and the ECA’, arranged by Alex Brenninkmeijer, a Member of the Court. Brenninkmeijer is a former ombudsman in The Netherlands and the event marked his country’s Liberation Day. Around 150 auditors and translators were present.

The ECA acts as the EU’s external auditor, scrutinizing spending on every aspect of its work. In 2013, the auditors spent more than 6,000 person-days in on-the-spot auditing. They mainly produce written reports and opinions. Before the web came along, only a handful of EU insiders and the press had easy access to the material. Now, everything is publicly available through the ECA website. So it needs to be clear and attractively designed if the ECA is not to be embarrassed.

Martin Cutts of Plain Language Commission gave the seminar's keynote speech on ways of clarifying ECA documents and took part in a round-table discussion with other speakers. The ECA journal for June 2014 (download here) summarizes all the contributions.

Cutts praised the many good features of the Court’s recent special report on transport, EN2014/01. These include much-improved layout and design of the contents page, glossary, text pages and charts. The report begins with a brisk summary of its main points. This helps busy readers to get the gist without having to read the fine detail.

Cutts said the report would pass his Eurostar test, which was, ‘If an ECA booklet were lying open on a Eurostar seat, would anything catch your eye and persuade you to read it?’ So an important part of the test was visual appeal – even the best-written report is likely to be ignored unless the design is good.

There was discussion about the ECA’s target audience. Was it every adult in the EU, because their taxes pay for the auditors’ work; or members of the European parliament, whose levels of literacy and concentration may be quite varied; or interested members of the public who want to find out what the ECA is up to? [cont]

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