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Election 2016: Plain English guide to political terms

Ever wanted to know what ‘front runner’ really meant but were too afraid to ask? Check out the National Adult Literacy Agency’s free Plain English guide to political terms ahead of the general election.

Bandwagon effect’, ‘Dark horse candidate’ and ‘Mudslinging’ are just some of the terms explained in a plain English guide to political terms. The guide was written by the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) and aims to help the public become more familiar with some of the most common political terms.

“Politics is awash with terms and phrases that are beloved of commentators and politicians alike. That’s why we wrote this guide – to help people to better understand what is being said. We hope that the guide will help more people get involved in political activity and the general election,” said Inez Bailey, Director, NALA.

“We also encourage political parties to use less jargon and to be more aware of the issues faced by the 1 in 6 adults with literacy difficulties in Ireland. While political jargon allows politicians to talk about issues in a quicker, coded way, it can also act as a real barrier for people accessing information,” said Inez.

NALA’s plain English guide to political terms is free to download here.

Sample of terms in the guide:

Bandwagon effect: The tendency for a popular candidate or proposal to gather even more support simply because they appear to be winning; also called the ‘snowball effect’.

Canvassing: Trying to win votes by contacting voters directly, for example by going door to door.

Dark horse’ candidate: An almost unknown contestant in an election who achieves unexpected support.

Floating voter: A person who is undecided about how to vote in an election or referendum; a voter who doesn’t always vote for the same political party.

Front runner: A candidate who is likely to win an election or be nominated by their party to take part in an election.

Gerrymander: Deliberately dividing a constituency in a way that gives an advantage to one political party or to particular voters.

Hustings: Public meetings in the run up to an election where candidates outline their policies as part of their election campaign.

Incumbent: A person who currently holds a post or office.

Landslide victory: An overwhelming majority of votes for one candidate or party in an election.

Marginal seat: A seat held by a political party by a very narrow margin and, so, at risk of being lost.

Mudslinging: The practice of saying negative things about an opponent during a political campaign; also known as ‘dirty politics’.

Quota: The number of votes that a candidate needs to win a seat under the proportional representation (PR) system.

Returning Officer: A person who supervises the counting of votes during an election or referendum, and who certifies and officially announces the results.

Single Transferable Vote – STV: A system of voting where several seats are available in a constituency. A person votes for their preferred candidate, and any unused votes for that candidate (for example, if they already have enough to be elected) are transferred to other candidates in the constituency until all seats are filled.

Safe seat: A seat in a constituency that is likely to go to a particular candidate because of the amount of support given to the candidate or the political party they represent.

Spin: Public relations (PR) activity, for example press releases or interviews, or a way of presenting information that aims to enhance the public image of a person or group, such as a politician or their party, at the expense of a political opponent or the opposition party.

Swing voter: A person who votes, but whose support can switch from one political party to another, depending on the issue at stake.

Tallyman: A person who attends the counting of votes and, by watching the process, carries out an unofficial count of the ballot papers as the official count progresses.


The End

For media queries please contact:

Clare McNally, National Adult Literacy Agency 01 412 7909 / 087 648 6292

About the National Adult Literacy Agency

The National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) is an independent charity committed to making sure people with literacy and numeracy difficulties can fully take part in society and have access to learning opportunities that meet their needs. According to an OECD survey in 2012, 1 in 6 Irish adults has difficulty understanding basic written text. Plain English benefits all of us but is particularly helpful for Irish people with low literacy levels.

What is plain English?

Plain English is a style of presenting information that helps you understand it the first time you read it. It involves short clear sentences and using everyday words. It does not involve small print or unnecessary jargon.

Why is this important?

Both citizens and governments benefit from clear information, written in plain English. Citizens are more likely to understand their rights and governments are more likely to make better use of their resources.

This is why NALA recommends that all public information produced by Government and its agencies is written in plain English.



Writing for the Web using plain English – free training for the community and voluntary sector

This course is for content writers, editors or reviewers who write and manage web content. Free for the community and voluntary sector only.

PEN Plain English Writing for the Web Training

Thurs 21 January: 9.30am-4.00pm

Thurs 11 February: 9.30am-4.00pm

Venue: Cluid, 63-66 Amiens Street, Dublin 1

Who is this course for?

This course is for content writers, editors or reviewers who write and manage content but who are new to plain English or would like a refresher. Trainees are likely to have to write text about their organisation and or a particular news topic or issue. The course would also be useful to other staff members who want to sharpen their writing techniques.

Description of course:

This course will use a mix of presentation, relevant examples, discussion and exercises to introduce participants to the benefits and techniques of plain English when writing or reviewing web content. The training aims to be informal with regular opportunities for questions and answers. We will use examples of content from participants’ own websites.

By the end of this training, participants should be able to:

  • understand how people ‘read’ on the web;
  • identify what makes web material difficult to read and understand;
  • write sharper copy for their website using web writing resources based on plain English;
  • identify and use keywords to maximise search engine results and placing;
  • have a greater appreciation of the importance of clear navigation; and
  • appreciate accessibility and legal issues when writing for the web.

Course outline:

9.15 Tea and coffee

9.30 Welcome, introductions and expectations

9.40 What’s different about writing for the web? Does plain English help?

9.50 Who are you writing for? What they want from your site?

10.10 An integrated web writing strategy – what’s this? Does it fit with webpage content, newsletters, Facebook, and so on?

10.40 The science of web usability (UX)

  • Usability and what we know about how people read on the Web and what they want

11.15 Navigation is a content – and an accessibility issue

  • Breaking up long or complicated text using clear headings or sub-headings, appropriate paragraphs, meaningful links, keywords

11.45 The value of storytelling

12.30 Lunch

1.15 How to write clearly

  • Being personal and direct
  • Being concise
  • Being positive
  • Using everyday words
  • Making verbs obvious and strong
  • Font, format and alignment
  • Style matters

3.15 Defamation and copyright

3.35 Questions, answers and… next steps

4.00 Evaluation and close.

Note: This course is focused on writing in plain English. It is not about building a website. Timings are indicative.

To register for the course on 21 January click here

To register for the course on 11 February click here

NALA delighted at turnout at PLAIN’s 2015 conference

NALA was proud to host the Plain Language Association International’s (PLAIN’s) 10th conference in Dublin last month (September 17-20).

The conference was attended by delegates and speakers from Europe, Australia, Asia, Africa, North America and South America. In total, the conference had 250 delegates with 70 speakers. Its theme was ‘Clearer language, greater efficiency and effectiveness.’

Later this month, you will be able to download presentations from most of the speakers ( Now, that NALA has increased discussion about plain English we need to continue to show and evidence its importance.

We thank PLAIN and conference sponsors, partners and all for helping to make the conference one of PLAIN’s best.


Register before June 30 to avail of the early-bird registration rate for PLAIN’s international plain language conference

Top class speakers from around the world are set to speak at PLAIN’s 10th anniversary conference ‘Clearer language, greater efficiency and effectiveness.’ The conference will be held in September (17-20) in Dublin Castle.

Early bird-rates are now available. You can get a discount if you are a member of NALA or of PLAIN – the Plain Language Association InterNational. The conference website is:

By the way, we are also looking for conference sponsors, so if you feel you want to sponsor a worthy and important cause, please email Thanks to those who have already sponsored or partnered with us to help bring PLAIN 2015 to Dublin Castle.


Plain English Awards 2015, sponsored by Mason Hayes & Curran

We are asking you, whether you are a member of an organisation or an interested member of the public, to send us documents, pictures or websites that you think are outstanding examples of plain English – or of gobbledygook! The deadline to send submissions is 14 August.

This event is kindly sponsored by Mason Hayes & Curran.
A panel of plain English experts will judge the entries and decide on the winners in each category.


New training dates

Time: 9.30am to 3.00pm  


  • Wed 11 March
  • Wed 10 June
  • Wed 14 October

Cost: €120 per person (€100 per person for community and voluntary organisations). Payment must be paid in advance.

Location: Dublin

  • Do you want to ensure that you are communicating as clearly and effectively as possible?
  • Are you sometimes frustrated answering the same questions because the information to customers is not clear enough?
  • Do you find it difficult to develop clear reports, policies, promotional, training or web materials?
  • Do you want to get quality training in how best to communicate, provided by leaders in plain English editing and training?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then this one-day training course is for you. Book your place for this course online at (click on upcoming events tab)

If you have queries, please contact Sandra Peel on (01) 412 7900 or email Claire O’Riordan at