Tuesday, 2 May 2017

"Hong Kong government’s efforts to address housing problem are showing results". Letters, 2 May. ATTN: John LEE

Hi John,
This below is mainly for you, personally, but if you want to run it as a Letter to the Editor, feel free.  
I was prompted by reading today’s letter by a civil servant (Joyce Kok) that exemplified everything wrong with bureaucratic writing: long-winded, jargon-laden and complex beyond need.
Anyway, my comment below, for you, or for Letters:
Is the SCMP determined to become an uncritical voice for the government, in its Letters to the editor?  I ask because there seems to have been quite a number of government-written letters, most highlighted as the main letter of the day. They tend to be profligate with words and foggily unreadable.
The latest is a letter from Joyce Kok, on housing policy. ("Hong Kong government’s efforts to address housing problem are showing results”, 2 May).
Looking at style instead of content: Ms Kok uses three words when one would do.  Her letter is 395 words.  I did an edited version in 134 words which makes her case more clearly.
Second, Kok's readability is low.  The Gunning-fog readability index gives her a 21.3.  The higher the index, the less readable, ideal being around 12.  Kok's score is off the charts, at post-graduate degree level.  My shorter version scores an 10.8, indicating a readability for a “wide audience”.  (By the way, Donald Trump’s inauguration speech scored 11.8, readable by a "wide audience", whereas Hillary Clinton’s primary acceptance speech was 15.6, or “college senior” level.  That’s why, of many reasons for her defeat, the simplicity of Trump’s talks vs the complexity of Clinton’s speeches has been mooted as one factor).
Over the years, you have published many of my letters. Sometimes you’ve asked me to edit one, and I’ve appreciated this direction.  
Can you not apply the same requirements on government letter writers?  Make them tighten their text to make it more readable and less bloviating?  It would do them good. Better yet, for civil servants writing in English, suggest they read the classic “Politics and the English Language”, by George Orwell.
Peter Forsythe
9 Siena One
Discovery Bay
Hong Kong
9308 0799

PS: My letter, above: 283 words. Gunning-fog index: 8.7

My re-writing of Kok’s letter:
I refer to the letter from Wolf Peter Berthold (“Protect residents by segregating property market in Hong Kong, April 24).
We do indeed want try to make property more affordable for Hong Kong residents.  On the supply side, we expect 96,000 more units in the next 3-4 years.
On the demand side, stamp duties are helping reduce non-resident and speculation demand. 
The Special Stamp Duty reduced speculation from 20% of total transactions in 2010 to 0.7% in the first quarter of 2017.  The Buyer’s Stamp Duty reduced non-local purchases from 4.5% to 1.5% of total purchases, in the same time.
Meantime, the ad valorem stamp duties increase to 15% has reduced speculative investor purchases from 22% of total in 2017 to 5.3% to March this year.
These are good results.  We will continue to increase housing supply and reduce demand in the property market, to help local, first time property buyers.