Plain Language Awards

Celebrate the stories of our clearest business communicators

Finalist: People’s Choice — Worst ‘Brainstrain’ Communication 2015

NZ Police

Document name

Vetting Service — Request and Consent Form

Judges’ comment

A completed vetting form can have life-changing consequences for the person being vetted. So it’s vital that the form is clearly understood by the person filling it out. While you’ve clearly put effort into the layout of the form, the overall design and language is overly official and difficult to understand.

We hope you’ll see this ‘Brainstrain’ nomination as an opportunity to review and redesign this form so it works better for its intended audience.

The document’s title is confusing. Would most people know what ‘vetting’ is? Perhaps ‘Request and consent for police background check’, or something similar, would be clearer for the audience. A short explanation of who the form is for and how/when it’s used would also be helpful.

The form is in three sections. This structure works reasonably well. It would be helpful to explain the structure of the document at the start, and perhaps use colour to differentiate the sections.

The document uses a wide array of font sizes and three different fonts. The checkboxes are different sizes and the spacing is inconsistent. All this gives the form a chaotic feel.

Headings are inconsistent, unclear, or overly wordy. Some sentences use passive verbs. Rewrite these using active verbs to reduce the reader’s mental strain. The document also uses many official and legalese terms. This is an issue when writing documents for the public, especially a document of this kind. Readers must understand what they are consenting to.

This form does little to help its readers to make an informed decision. Its aim is to provide the required information about consent, but it seems likely that many readers will not understand this information and what they’re signing off on.

This document does not work well for its intended audience. It’s confusing and difficult to absorb, so it seems that many applicants won’t actually read it. This is a serious issue, as the outcome of the police check can have serious impacts on their employment and future.

With a little work you can greatly improve this form.

Media statement

This form was recently redesigned to cater for numerous questions from the public about different aspects of the Clean Slate and Vulnerable Children’s legislation. Our enthusiasm to apply good detective skills and leave no stone unturned in addressing every possible query seems to have resulted in a document that has been found guilty of causing brain strain. We have reopened the case and with this new evidence to hand we hope to overturn the ruling and be cleared of any crime by the judges at next year’s Awards.

Superintendent Dave Trappitt
Acting National Commissioner — Prevention