2013 WonderMark Awards

WonderMark logoWonderMark 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.”

2013 Grand WonderMark Award Recipient

Charles Schwab & Co., Inc.The New Yorker magazine 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.”

Other WonderMark Award Recipients

In addition to the Grand WonderMark Award recipient, other WonderMark Award recipients include:

  • US Department of Homeland Security — USCIS Consideration for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Process Frequently Asked Questions

    This [involves people] who don’t speak English as their first language AND it involves children. The tone indicates that the writer does not see the reader as a person. This is written in such bureaucratic style that someone who was born and raised in this country may not recognize this as English. The opening paragraph contains an intimidating long run-on sentence containing the phrase “… exercise prosecutorial discretion…” Does that means that they could prosecute, but they may choose not to? If so, then say that. Using legalese that most of your target audience doesn’t understand makes the program inaccessible to the people it is intended to help.

  • Feldman ENT Group — Conditions of Registration

    A doctor’s office is a place that’s supposed to make you feel safe and cared for.  The first sentence is around 168 words due to the ingenious use of conjunctions. It could be longer than that but I think punctuation is missing. It is almost impossible to read this – the small print doesn’t help either. Imagine how patients feel trying to figure out exactly what they are authorizing and consenting to just to make the doctor feel safe.  Physician “do no harm” should also include “lawyers and bureaucrats do no harm either.”

  • 1&1 Internet — 1&1 Web hosting upgrade letter

    The writer could have made their point in two paragraphs.  The additional words only confuse the reader. The company markets its services to non-programmers. “I have a J.D., and I can’t figure it out. Yet it seems to be saying we must do something soon. I don’t know what PHP is, what ‘scripts’ are, what ‘Register Globals’ means, what any of the applications are (except WordPress). I called for more information but I got more of the same. Shouldn’t some of the company’s 5,000 employees be able to speak to its intended clients? From layout to calling me ‘Mr. Portland’ (hometown, but not my name) to poor grammar, the letter is a disaster for the portion of its 10 million clients who are not computer programmers.”

WonderMark Judges

The judges for the 2013 WonderMark Awards are:

  • Christopher Balmford
  • Deborah Bosley
  • Robin Buckley
  • Josiah Fisk
  • Joanne Locke
  • Melodee Mercer
  • Elise Oppenheimer

Center for Plain Language (centerforplainlanguage.org)


Printed April 21, 2014


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