Plain Language Awards

Celebrate the stories of our clearest business communicators


The amusingly named Brainstrain Award has a serious purpose: to effect change for good | Photo by Canstock

Here’s your chance to dob in a bad document and inspire better with the Brainstrain option of the People’s Choice Award!

When we’re forced to wrestle with a hard-to-read document, we grumble quietly or even complain loudly. It could be a form we need to complete, a contract or financial agreement we have to sign, or other vital information we need. If they’re not clearly written or presented, all can inspire a range of negative reactions!

Inaccessible information has serious effects

We often joke about dense, unhelpful, or poorly worded documents. We label them gobbledygook or jargon and then forget about them. But for many people, inaccessible information has more serious consequences. Barriers to understanding create disadvantage, mistakes, and stress. Lives are affected and the cost can be high.

So here’s your chance to put a spotlight on a bad document and prevent more harm. Nominate it for the 2022 People’s Choice Brainstrain Award! This award goes to the document or webpage most notable for confusing or disadvantaging its target audience. Judges take into account the number of people likely to be affected and the degree of frustration or harm caused. Any member of the public can make a nomination.

Do your bit to create a fairer and more respectful society

Although the ‘prize’ is given in good humour at the ceremony, the award has a very serious purpose — to prompt change and create a fairer and more respectful society. Many winners have accepted the feedback graciously and gone on to rewrite the offending text. Thousands of people have been positively affected by those rewrites, so here’s a chance to play your part.

Take action now and be a catalyst for change. (Nominations are kept confidential — your name and details are not made available to the perpetrator!)

Nominate a Brainstrain

Find out more about the People’s Choice Awards


Posted In: 2022 Plain Language Awards, People's Choice awards

Tags: , , , , ,

Confusion costs readers and sends them in the wrong direction | Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Have you spotted a piece of bad communication in the wild recently? Do you know of a particularly painful sentence or paragraph that needs taming? Although entries are officially closed for the 2021 Awards, we’re still keen to talk about one of the categories that’s a fan favourite — the Worst Brainstrain Communication.

We’ll be highlighting some brainstraining sentences during the Awards ceremony

Send us a gnarly sentence or two that you’ve had a close encounter with. We’ll be doing a few callouts for the Brainstrain category during the 2021 Awards ceremony on Thursday, 14 October. So we’re keen to get as many sentences as we can before next Thursday.

Our callouts on the day won’t be official winners of the infamous Brainstrain trophy bin filled with sour worm lollies from previous Awards ceremonies.

But rest assured that we’re keen to share your examples so that we can continue to highlight where work still needs to be done in the interests of clear communication.

A heap of colourful sour worm lollies

The traditional Brainstrain trophy is a bin containing sour worm lollies | Photo by Bill Craighead on Unsplash

Why it’s good to point out the bad

In good humour, the Brainstrain award puts a confusing document or webpage under the spotlight. And we hope that the organisations responsible will rewrite them in beautifully plain English.

Previous winners of the Brainstrain have seen the light and taken the callout on the chin. They’ve worked on their documents and improved them, sometimes even turning up as winners in the Best Plain English Turnaround Award in subsequent years.

Send us any confusing sentences you’ve found before Thursday, 14 October by entering them in Submittable. (You’ll need to log in to your Submittable account or set up an account.)

Send us your Brainstrain sentences

The Brainstrain trophy, a bin filled with sourworm lollies

The fan-favourite Brainstrain trophy was last awarded in 2018 | Photo by Rebecca McMillan Photography

Join us to celebrate the 2021 Plain English Awards

We’ll be celebrating all our finalists and winners of the 2021 Plain English Awards on Thursday, 14 October. So come along and enjoy the online ceremony — it’s a free event!

Register to attend the 2021 Awards ceremony

Posted In: 2021 Awards ceremony, Brainstrain

Tags: , , , , , ,

Which do you choose? Nominate the good and the bad for the People’s Choice | Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Have you ever found a document so challenging to read that you had to call on a mate for help? Or have you found a document so surprisingly easy to read that the stress lines of those furrowed brows just disappeared in a flash?

You have the power to tell the world what you want from anything you read — and plain is the way to go! And the two People’s Choice categories can help you and others choose plain over waffle.

Fight the good fight and show what’s right

Imagine a world where your insurance documents, legal contracts, application forms, and other important pieces of information are clear and easy to read. The more that we all speak up and demand clear communication, the better it gets for everyone!

The Best Plain English Communication shows the world that plain English is the right way to write. You can give someone a pat on the back for an amazing piece of writing.

As Awards MC and long-time supporter James Elliott puts it:

Plain English is hard to define but we recognise its absence when we see gobbledygook.

Show the world what good looks like, and help create demand for lots more good writing!

Nominate a People’s Choice Best Communication

Don’t strain the brain — make it plain

How many brains does it take to change a lightbulb? If it takes more than one person or read-through to ‘click’ with what you’re reading, the writer hasn’t done a good job.

Call out poor communication! The Brainstrain category highlights communications that could be much clearer. Past winners of this infamous award have taken the award in good humour and seen the opportunities to improve.

Nominate a Brainstrain

Let the People’s Choice be your voice!

Vote for clarity and clear communication. Exercise your democratic right and let your voice be heard.

We don’t want to deal with jargon. We don’t want obscurity. We don’t want confusion when we read anything. We want to understand everything, plain and simple!

Submit your nomination


Posted In: 2021 Plain English Awards, People's Choice awards

Tags: , , , , , ,

We’re excited to announce that entries are open! | Photo by James Lee on Unsplash

The Awards are officially open for entries in all categories. After a break in 2020, the Awards are back for 2021 — and they’re better than ever! We all saw the amazing benefits of clear and plain communications from the Government and health agencies. This heightened awareness of clear communication has set the scene beautifully for the return of the Plain English Awards.

Here’s what you need to know about the Awards in 2021. We’ve got a new unifying theme for the Awards, a combination of new and familiar judges, and all your favourite categories.

Tell the story of your plain language project

This year we’ve introduced a Story theme — and we’re offering you the chance to share your plain language stories through our video gallery. We’re particularly looking for people in workplaces to share stories about the benefits of their plain language projects. No project is too big or too small!

These stories will inspire others to embrace the benefits of plain language for organisations and their customers. We hope the gallery will become a go-to resource for people to get plain language inspiration.

Our judges and sponsors are joining in the fun as well. You can share a video without needing to enter the Awards. But we hope you’ll feel inspired to enter once you read about the available categories.

Check out the first videos in the gallery

Meet our judging panel

From Dunedin to Denver, Gisborne to Edinburgh, this year’s judging panel is made up of plain language experts from around New Zealand and the world. You’ve met some of them before and others are joining us for the first time in 2021. Together they make up an experienced and insightful team of plain language pros!

Find out more about this year’s judges

Choose your Awards category and get your entry ready

The Awards have a range of categories to suit almost every type of document (and websites).

If you’re starting off or pressed for time, you might consider entering the short and sweet Best Plain English Sentence Transformation. If you’ve transformed a whole document, you might be ready for the Best Plain English Turnaround. You can enter a Best Plain English Document or Website — with a choice of public or private sector.

For specialist business documents, you’ll find a Best Plain English Legal Document category and Best Plain English Annual Report. We’re seeing some of the finest examples of these documents coming through, with the quality of entries rising every year.

Specialist technical communicators have a category just for them. And those working on a team project or an organisation-wide project can enter the Champion categories.

Discover whether you’re a contender for the Champion category

Get some inspiration for the Sentence Transformation category

Review all the categories and find out how to enter

Nominate a best or worst communication

The Awards also include two categories that any member of the public can nominate communications for, to be judged by our People’s Choice judging panel. These are the People’s Choice Best Plain English Communication and the Worst Brainstrain Communication categories. These categories are always lots of fun — we love giving a voice to all of New Zealand.

Read about the People’s Choice in 2019

Get involved in the 2021 People’s Choice awards

Posted In: 2021 Plain English Awards, People's Choice awards, Plain English Awards

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Have you heard the news? Our judges have chosen their finalists. Image by Rakicevic Nenad. Pexels license.

They said it wasn’t an easy task. However, after running over their shortlisted entries with a fine-tooth comb, our judges have settled on this year’s finalists.

Who are our Best finalists?

The following nominations are finalists in our People’s Choice — Best Plain English Communication category:

Who are our Brainstrain finalists?

The following nominations are finalists in our People’s Choice — Worst Brainstrain category:

  • Auckland City Council — Proposed Plan Change letter
  • Christchurch City Council — Te Wai Ora o Tāne Draft Integrated Water Strategy
  • Rabo Capital Securities Limited — Redemption Notice letter

What happens next

Our judges in each category will now review their selected entries and decide on a winner. Our media partner, Newsroom, will announce this year’s winners on their website on Thursday, 28 November.

Posted In: 2019 People's Choice Awards, Brainstrain, Finalists, Industry awards

Tags: , , ,

Who’s the best and who’s the worst? Our panel of expert judges will make this year’s tough decisions. Image by Emily Morter. Unsplash licence.

Every year we’re honoured to enlist the support of plain language specialists from around New Zealand and the world to judge entries and nominations in our Awards. This year’s People’s Choice Awards are no different.

The exciting task of deciding who’s best

For our Best Communication category, we’re delighted to announce Deanna Lorianni, communications strategist from Virginia, USA, as panel chair. She’ll be joined by plain language specialists Emma Fossey in Scotland and Paula Shelton in Auckland. Together Deanna, Emma, and Paula will make the tough decision on which of your nominations is this year’s plain language superstar.

The difficult job of sorting bad from worse

For our Brainstrain category, we’re lucky enough to have the expert eye of two judges who’ve been part of this panel for several years: Simon Hertnon from Nakedize, who’ll be chairing the panel, and Sue Chetwin from Consumer — we’re excited to have them back! Simon and Sue will be joined by the equally valuable Paula van Gemen, plain language specialist from the Netherlands.

Read more about who’s on this year’s judging panels

Posted In: 2019 People's Choice Awards, Judges

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A helping hand can come from the most unlikely places. Image by Youssef Naddam. Unsplash licence.

In times of trouble, who might you expect to get help from? Friends, family, colleagues, or your close community all might offer to lend a hand. It’s not often that a complete stranger jumps in to help. Particularly one that’s disguised as an industry award with the title ‘Brainstrain’.

Meet your new friend — the Brainstrain Award

The People’s Choice Awards offer members of the public an opportunity to celebrate excellent communications and to draw attention to bad ones — through the Brainstrain Award.

Winning the Brainstrain Award is like being offered a helping hand from a stranger. We say ‘stranger’ because all nominations are anonymous (and free).

The ‘helping hand’ is an opportunity for the winner to turn their communication around and make it better than ever. (And maybe even enter the Turnaround Award in the next round of full Plain English Awards in 2020.)

The Brainstrain winner gets some plain English love

The winning nomination gets the unenviable title of ‘People’s Choice — Worst Brainstrain Communication’. Sure, the word ‘Brainstrain’ doesn’t sound that great. But when you read what else winners receive, the title becomes a little less ominous.

Our beloved Brainstrain winner receives not only the famous Brainstrain rubbish bin filled with sour worms, but also some very constructive feedback and training in the form of:

  • feedback on their communication (and how it could be improved) from our expert panel of international judges
  • the latest StyleWriter plain English editing software — single-user licence (from Editor Software)
  • 2 hours free consultancy from Write Limited to start transforming the document or webpage into plain English
  • a place on any of Write Limited’s 1-day open workshops to use before 31 March 2020.

Do your bit for improving New Zealand’s communication. Submit your nominations for this year’s Brainstrain Award

Posted In: 2019 People's Choice Awards, Brainstrain, Communications

Tags: , , ,

Winning the People's Choice Award will have you jumping for joy. Image by Andre Hunter. Unsplash licence.

Whether you enter an award yourself or someone else nominates you, taking out a title brings plenty of benefits for the winner. This year’s People’s Choice Awards have prizes for the best — and the worst!

Best confirms that all your hard work was worth it

The highlight of winning our Best Plain English Communication category is probably the public recognition. Winners know that a member of the public thought something they created was a worthy entry for the Awards. And our international panel of judges thought it was the best in its class.

That’s not all though. Winners also receive:

  • a stunning steel and bronze trophy produced for the Awards by Wellington sculptor Campbell Maud
  • a single-use licence for StyleWriter plain English editing software
  • a place on any of Write Limited’s 1-day open workshops.

Worst gives you a chance to turn things around

You might think that anyone ‘unlucky’ enough to win our Brainstrain category would have nothing to be happy about (except perhaps the bag of sour worms they’re given). But that’s definitely not the case. They actually have plenty to celebrate.

Winning the notorious Brainstrain category often acts as a catalyst for organisations to rethink their communications — and ultimately what their audience needs. Winners are forced to take a good hard look at the way they write, and work out how they can improve.

Winners get hugely valuable feedback from our judges about their communication. One previous winner used the feedback to revamp their communication. They did such an impressive job that it won the Best Plain English Turnaround Award the following year.

Winners of the Brainstrain category also receive:

  • the (in)famous Brainstrain rubbish bin filled with sour worms
  • a single-use licence for StyleWriter plain English editing software
  • 2 hours free consultancy from Write Limited to start transforming the document or webpage into plain English
  • a place on any of Write Limited’s 1-day open workshops.

Take a look at past Award winners on our website

Posted In: 2019 People's Choice Awards

Tags: , , , , ,

Do you know someone whose writing makes you prickly? Nominate them for the 2019 Brainstrain award.

If you’ve been marking off the days on your calendar, you’ll know the time has come. Nominations for the 2019 People’s Choice Awards opened last Saturday.

Success worth being proud of

What we love about the People’s Choice Awards, and what many of you have told us you love too, is how our winners react to their success. Winners of our People’s Choice Best category are invariably enormously proud — and rightly so! Who wouldn’t be? Your work will have been singled out by a member of the public, judged against other outstanding entries, and deemed by the international judging panel to be the best!

Recognition to take in good humour

What about the winner of our award for the worst communication? Our Worst Brainstrain category recognises a document or website that a member of the public has found confusing, frustrating, obscure, or downright horrible. With all the potential fallout from winning this unenviable title, we love that our winners invariably accept their ‘success’ in good humour. And they see it as an opportunity to start over again, so that their communication serves its audience better.

Check out the acceptance speeches by some past winners of the People’s Choice Worst Brainstrain award:

Posted In: 2019 People's Choice Awards, Brainstrain, Winners

Tags: , , ,