Arizona Attorney Magazine February 2013 cover

Our February 2013 issue with Bob McWhirter’s pictorial feature on less-lawyerly writing.

This week, I was pleased to see the announcement of honorees recognized for their clear and plain writing. Here at Arizona Attorney Magazine, we enjoy good writing and like to publish articles on it whenever we can—as we did here. I hope you enjoy it too.

The Center for Plain Language (even the organization’s name is transparent) gives awards annually to the best (and worst) examples of, well, plain writing. Here is how they describe their mission:

“The Center for Plain Language is a D.C.-based nonprofit organization that wants government and business documents to be clear and understandable. We support those who use plain language, train those who should use plain language, and urge people to demand plain language in all the documents they receive, read, and use.”

You can read more about them here. (Lawyers, how can you not love an organization that states, “Plain language is a civil right”?!) But on this Change of Venue Friday, let me tell you about this week’s winners and “winners.” (You may be surprised—as I was—that no law firms made it into one of the categories.)

Center for Plain Language logo(All of the winners and their opposite are posted online, here and here, respectively.)

Their top winner captured the “Grand ClearMark Award” (that’s the good category). The best-in-show honoree is the March of Dimes, which published a brochure titled Thinking About Your Family Health History. Here’s what the Center’s judges said:

Center for Plain Language ClearMark Award logo“[T]he brochure is written and designed with its target audience, parents-to-be, in mind. The brochure is an excellent example of plain language with easy to understand medical terms, and a clear, concise, and appropriate writing style designed to appeal to the target audience. The brochure uses colors, font, white space, and graphics effectively to add to its clarity.”

Wouldn’t we all like our writing efforts to be described so glowingly?

Center for Plain Language march-of-dimes

Top winner of Center for Plain Language award: March of Dimes (first page of a multi-page brochure)

Meantime, what’s up at the other end of the spectrum (I know you all raced here first), in the category the Center calls the WonderMark Award? Before I reveal the “honoree,” I should let the Center explain why the award has the name it does:

“WonderMark Awards are given for the least usable documents. The sort of documents that make us shake our heads and say: ‘We wonder what they meant. We wonder what they were thinking.’”

Pretty funny folks.

Anyway, the bottom winner is Charles Schwab, for a New Yorker advertisement that, indeed, makes us shake our head.

Center for Plain Language Charles Schwab ad

Not their best effort? New Yorker ad by Charles Schwab

I must share the Center’s own description of why they “recognized” this ad:

“What made it a WonderMark Award recipient?

  • So hard to read and decipher, it’s hard to judge.
  • Contradictory and frankly intimidating to the reader.
  • Of the 768 words in this ad, 700 are legalese. That’s over 90%!
  • One WonderMark judge summarized: ‘Sigh … once again a financial institution that expects me to trust them with my money makes it impossible for me to know what they are going to do with my money.’”Center for Plain Language WonderMark Award logo

The website announcement unfortunately truncated that last quotation. In the press release I received, the quote continues, “My mattress is looking better and better all the time.”

Who writes their stuff? This is gold—gold, I tell you!

Follow them on Twitter here, and join their open group on Facebook here.

Enjoy your weekend, and keep on writing (well).

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