March Grammar Madness: Commas Win in an Upset!

Posted on Mar 11, 2015 in Board News, Center News, Literacy

It’s March Grammar Madness at Healthwise. We’re mad about clear communication—and isn’t that the primary purpose of grammar?

So, just like the hoops fans who get into the college basketball spirit, we celebrated National Grammar Day (March 4) with a bracket. It’s all about sustaining the commitment to plain language—and scoring points with employees.

Here’s how it worked:

Employees suggested their favorite grammar challenges or pet peeves, such as, misuse of pronouns, or that/which distinction, and our associate editors built a bracket from the most common suggestions. Players then voted on their preferred grammar problem, and those problems with the most votes advanced to the next round. The championship game pitted commas against apostrophes. Commas came out on top.

March Grammar madness

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Associate editor Tracy Landauer declared that “proper comma use is the grammar rule that Healthwise is most mad about this year!”

Not every employee played in the tournament—but dozens did. And everyone knew about it. Signs were posted around our buildings in both Boise and Boston, and regular emails reminded people to play. Editors then shared a grammar tip sheet focusing on these specific uses and abuses.

March Grammar Madness was just one more way to highlight clear communication in an organization that has embedded plain language best practices into its heart and soul. It’s essential to our mission: To help people make better health decisions.

Other companies have found creative ways to keep the spotlight on clear communication, too. At Aetna, a regular feature on the intranet site is the Jargon Alert. Content Strategist Brian Berkenstock explained that “employees send in awful words and phrases, and we present simpler alternatives.” He also cited a lengthy discussion on Aetna’s internal social site about whether there should be one or two spaces after a period. “I eventually laid down the law and said our style was one space. But I let it go for quite some time because it was such fun.”

How does your organization keep clear communication front and center? How do you engage your employees and keep them excited about plain language? How do you make it fun? Send examples to I’ll share them in a later blog.

Oh, in October Healthwise also celebrates International Plain Language Day—with plain M&Ms!

Karen Baker, MHSAbout the author: Karen Baker is Vice Chair for the Center for Plain Language board, and Senior Vice President for Consumer Experience at Healthwise.