My group won the ClearMark Grand Prize in 2013. We were thrilled! My colleague and I graciously accepted the award and headed for champagne at the bar next door. I lugged the trophy home to New York and proudly displayed it for everyone to see. Our new medical director seemed impressed—nothing like getting a few brownie points with the new boss.
I won employee of the month for leading health literacy/plain language efforts at the March of Dimes. This got me flowers, my name on a plaque, a free lunch and an up-close employee-of-the-month parking space. I was the queen of plain language. I had the trophy and the parking space.
About a month later I was on the phone with a consultant. We were reviewing copy that I’d borrowed from an older piece. He said something like, “This isn’t very consumer friendly. Bringing the reading level down would help.”
Off with his head! How dare he question the reading level! Does he not know who I am? I’m the queen of March of Dimes plain language. If it comes from my shop, it must be clear communication! It must be!
I sheepishly investigated the copy. To my horror, I found phrases like “embrace the participatory nature of the sessions,” “improve birth outcomes,” and “the prenatal experience.” Yikes. What’s a prenatal experience? None of that was simple or clear. What went wrong? My reign was in peril.
OK, the copy was old. We hadn’t looked at it in years and obviously not through a plain-language lens. It was written before I’d been crowned. But the lesson was clear—our work is never done. We can always find ways to simplify, rewrite, make better. Just ‘cause I got a trophy and an up-close parking space doesn’t mean everything we’ve touched is easy to read. We’ve gotta keep working, keep writing, keep cycling back to older stuff that needs a fresh plain-language look.
Luckily my queenship is intact. I was not overthrown in a plain-language revolution. But I’m smarter and wiser and humbler now. And back in a regular parking space.
About the Author: Karen Kroder is Editorial Director for Education & Health Promotion at the March of Dimes, a national nonprofit organization that helps moms have full-term pregnancies and healthy babies. The March of Dimes is a 3-time ClearMark Award winner, including the grand prize in 2013.