Ruth Marshall

Ruth Marshall

Ruth Marshall is the Head of Futures Capability at the Government Office for Science.

Location London


  • @JillHind I'd compromise on 'difficult to find out' ... ? We may have to agree to disagree, but in government I do think it matters who agreed or did something, because you have to be able to account for your decisions. Academic writers are often much more comfortable with the passive voice for almost the opposite reason - looking for objective truths rather...

  • PS With perfect timing my boss has just asked us for help. She's been invited to the 'inaugural GFT at the MCM' and has no idea what this means or whether she should accept. A whole page of googling suggested this was a comic convention on Star Wars. We think it's actually a global technology event but are still figuring it out. This stuff matters!

  • Good fun! Top things I learned:
    Testing your own writing online with people who don't work in the same work area or country as you is a very quick way to realise you use a lot of jargon without meaning to.
    That made me think how hard it must be to take on a job where you don't speak the national language fluently, even if you can manage day to day.

  • I try to summarise what I'm asking people to do, by when, in the email title especially if it's asking them to do something quickly. Sometimes if you just keep replying on an email chain the original heading is completely unrelated to what you're trying to say.

  • Not impressed with Quillbot. I gave it the NHS England text I quoted a few pages back and it came back with even more jargon and a sentence that didn't make sense. The Hemingway app by contrast highlighted the whole text red (too waffly) and spotted a passive voice point I'd missed. Can't access Grammarly.

  • I've used textio for drafting job adverts. I think you had to be able to hit a certain score - 65? - before you could post a job advert on the UK Civil Service Jobs site at one stage. I confess I thought it was a bit picky and only rewrote what I needed to pass the target score!

  • Blocked by my organisation alas!

  • And do the boring bits: are the page numbers in your contents page still correct? If you've cross-referenced something, again, is the page or section reference still correct? And - because I work in science and knowing where your evidence comes from is important - if you've quoted someone else's work have you said where it comes from?

  • They could just have said:
    The NHS and the government have published a plan to help improve urgent and emergency care services, see patients more quickly and make the experience better for them. We will fund 800 new ambulances ... etc. ...which will help staff to do this.

  • Here's one from NHS England, which leads the English National Health Service. It's not terrible for an English civil servant to read but it's not great:
    "Major plan to recover urgent and emergency care services.
    The NHS and the government have published a new blueprint to help recover urgent and emergency care services, reduce waiting times and improve...

  • Thought I'd check out Publishers' Weekly. They ought to know how to use plain English, right? Here's their summary of current news, taken directly from today's online issue.

    "Two CEOs have stepped down. A storied executive has retired. And a big legal loss isn't entirely in the rearview mirror."

  • I'd say because it makes it unclear to the reader who is asking for/ responsible for something and why. E.g. 'it is agreed that' - who agreed it? Through which mechanism etc. Did anyone disagree? If you say 'The steering group agreed that', it's much clearer.

  • This also illustrates another proofing point. Always think about what's missing, don't just look for spelling errors etc

  • If it's important, never rely on proof-reading your own text. Best example from my publishing world: we reached the last round of proofs (pages ready to go to the printers) before I spotted I'd left the author's name off the front cover. That could have gone badly.

  • Hello again @SusanaG. ! I think the tech one basically means:
    This new technology needs to fit alongside how we work already, deliver what the business needs it to and give staff what they want. Our new platform is more engaging for people who use it because it's simpler and links up well with our existing system.

  • The trouble with this course is it keeps reminding me of more words and phrases I hate in my workplace culture. We are always 'aligning' and 'embedding' things . Which just means 'making sure our work supports what others are doing'. Or 'making this part of how we normally work'. And if one more person tells me they are 'actively' doing something I will...

  • @SusanaG. Thank you!

  • @SusanaG. I agree. Giving people a 3 page list of acronyms on the first day of a new job isn't solving the problem, is it?!

  • Hi again @SusanaG. Interesting people nick jargon words from English. I hate 'resilience' in a work context too...

  • Congrats on spotting my deliberate mistake ; -)

  • Fair points!

  • Hello @SusanaG. Thanks for asking. I'll try to explain below.
    'big picture challenges' means looking at the most important, strategic issues for your area (often long-term) and not getting obsessed with the detail. Examples might be thinking about global economic trends, climate change, or long-term predictions about employment patterns, instead of the...

  • Version 1: Instead, the ecosystems approach allows for policy-makers working across government, or within particular units to make strategic and culturally appropriate choices about where to intervene or invest in what is often a long journey to sustainable, impactful foresight work.

    Version 2: Using the 'ecosystems method' outlined in this report helps...

  • Practice makes perfect! I do love FutureLearn too.

  • VERSION 1 There is no silver bullet for creating effective sustainable foresight in government. Considering foresight as an “ecosystem” that includes the
    socio-cultural and political context of that nation is critical to ensure lasting integration into policymaking (see figure 1). Focusing on a unit or department can enhance the value of specific projects or...

  • That's a really important point. It's hard to accept when you love every word you've written but people rarely read all of them. They scan!

  • My best tip on this* is to read back what you've written out loud. You soon find out when your sentences are too long. You stumble or get lost.

    *which of course I rarely do myself

  • Interestingly our front page is mixed - most entries spell out all acronyms admirably but PSREs (Public Sector Research Establishments) got away. Suspect it's down to individual authors adding piecemeal text.

  • I worked in A Very Important Person's Office for several weeks overhearing conversations about 'ODA'. I thought they meant policy on bad smells*. They actually meant Official Development Assistance. If they'd pronounced all the letters - Oh -Dee- Ay - I might have realised it was an acronym and not felt quite so stupid.

    *ODA - Odour.

  • Last two days' output includes:
    'x has some great big picture challenges to policy'
    'have cheekily put you on my OOO'
    'light touch brief'
    'stretch result'
    I'm just about resisting my new team's references to 'drumbeat' by putting it in inverted commas. Not sure that gets me off the hook.

    I don't think I can face any more honesty in one lunchbreak.

  • Anything with the word 'holistic' in it. I know it's a perfectly legitimate word in itself, but it somehow seems to combine moral high ground with lazy shorthand for 'we've thought about different points of view'. Urgh.

  • I'll have to ask a holistic, diverse group of key stakeholders for their 360 degree feedback on that one. Quick win! But is it sustainable... Seriously - of course I do. And if it's shorthand between working colleagues, arguably that's ok. But I do remember being at the theatre listing to a parody of a government jargon speech and finding everyone around me...

  • A long time ago I worked in publishing. I'm a qualified editor and proof-reader. Do I practice what I preach? Not enough (esp the 'S' in JASPER). Aim - to reflect on how I could improve my own communications. Stretch objective - remember to close any bracket I put in the text.