Understanding audience needs

  • Is it clear what the audiences should learn or do using this entry?
  • Are the writing, tone and presentation appropriate for the audiences?
  • Did you get the sense that the writers genuinely want the audiences who use this product to succeed?

 Style or voice

  • Do the writers follow plain writing principles? (for example, short-ish sentences with active voice)
  • Does the product feel credible and sincere?
  • Do the tone, choice of words and conversational style convey respect for the target audience?
  • Do they avoid jargon?

Structure and Content

  • Are the sections of the product clearly organized and labeled?
  • Will the labels help audiences predict what is in each section?
  • Do the writers create effective transitions between sentences, paragraphs and sections?
  • Is the content presented in an order that tells a story or helps audiences complete a task?
  • Do they convey key content while effectively winnowing unnecessary details?
  • Do the writers provide relevant information in a balanced way, without overselling or underselling their points?

Information Design and Navigation

  • Do the typography, color, and whitespace grab and guide the audiences’ attention?
  • Do the layout and presentation make the product easy to scan?
  • Can you tell by glancing where the important information or action is?
  • (For websites) Does the navigation offer a visible, guided path through the content?

Pictures, Graphics and Charts

  • Do the pictures, graphics or charts map to and support the content?
  • Will audiences understand the point of the chart or graph?
  • Do the visuals help audiences understand important points better or guide them on how to take important steps?
  • Conversely: Are the images and graphics included merely as decoration? Or would the product be easier to understand if the writers had chosen more or different graphics?


  • Were the evaluation methods appropriate considering who and how many will use the product and its importance to their well-being?
  • Were the right evaluation methods (such as surveys, usability tests, or focus groups) used at the right time? Was there an explanation of why those methods of evaluation were chosen?
  • Was the evaluation done with representative audiences?
  • Were the findings used to shape and improve the final version?


  • Will the target audiences be able to find, understand and act confidently using what they learn in this entry?
  • Will the product help the authoring organization achieve its business goals (for example, increased customer self-service, enhanced mission, better consumer decisions)?
  • Would you use this product as an example of effective plain writing and information design?

Scoring Scale

We grade each one of the criteria on a one-to-five scale, with five being the best. Here’s how we score your entries:

5 – Excellent – A thought provoking and inspiring example of plain language. Masters all of the principles. Judges will want to tell others about this work.

Distribution: The top 10 percent of the work we review.

4 – Above Average – Not much room to improve. Applies plain language principles consistently and effectively.

Distribution: 20 percent of the work we review.

3 – Average – A competent example of plain language. Some more focus could significantly improve the execution.

Distribution: The middle 40 percent of the work we review.

2 – Improving – Uses some, but misses most of the principles of plain language. Some, but not all, principles may be misunderstood or misapplied.

Distribution: 20 percent of the work we review.

1 – Needs Work – Something significantly misses the mark. Principles and insights from testing may be misapplied.

Distribution: The bottom 10 percent of the work we review.