Competition calls out poor, rambling writing

December 19, 2012
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Know someone who could use a crash course in cutting to the chase? Ever read a legal document and thought that paragraphs of text could be reduced? Then perhaps you should nominate examples of unclear and bad language that could cause harm.

The WonderMark awards are put on by the Center for Plain Language, a nonprofit organization that wants government and business documents to be clear and understandable.

Of course, the center is encouraging nominations from the legal sector. I’ve read contracts, opinions and other legal documents and thought the language could be condensed and clearer. As a journalist, I try to get to the point as concisely and clearly as possible, but I think sometimes it’s the opposite in legal writing.

Following is an example given by the center of a Medicaid fraud letter.

The before: “Investigators at the contractor will review the facts in your case and decide the most appropriate course of action. The first step taken with most Medicare health care providers is to reeducate them about Medicare regulations and policies. If the practice continues, the contractor may conduct special audits of the providers’ medical records. Often, the contractor recovers overpayments to health care providers this way. If there is sufficient evidence to show that the provider is consistently violating Medicare policies, the contractor will document the violations and ask the Office of the Inspector General to prosecute the case. This can lead to expulsion from the Medicare program, civil monetary penalties, and imprisonment.”

The after: “We will take two steps to look at this matter: We will find out if it was an error or fraud. We will let you know the result.”

In 2012, The Commonwealth of Virginia, Fairfax County Circuit Court received a WonderMark award for its divorce forms and instructions brochure. The Center for Plain Language notes, “A word to the wise, try to avoid getting divorced in the Commonwealth of Virginia especially if you intend to read their ‘helpful’ divorce brochure–partially produced with help from the Fairfax County Bar. The 69-page brochure and use of Latin words ensures that you will need a lawyer if you want to get divorced in VA—or even if you just want to read the divorce brochure.”

If you’ve come across a document that was clear as day, you can also nominate that for a ClearMark award.

Last year, the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging won in the legal category of this award for its “Giving Someone a Power of Attorney for Your Health Care.” WellPoint Inc. and Victoria Law Foundation received awards of distinction in this category.

Click here for more about the awards.

Perhaps this post could have been more concise. I’ll work on that.
 

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