Plain Language Awards

Celebrate the stories of our clearest business communicators

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

Hamilton City Council

Document name

Digital Hamilton: Enabling development of a great New Zealand City

Judges’ comment

This is a comprehensive document that was clearly expensive to produce. So it’s a shame that it falls down for a few classic reasons. It lacks a clear purpose, the audience isn’t clearly defined, and the language is dense and hard to read. The main messages are buried deep within the document, and only the most diligent reader will make it there.

After reading the whole document we were still unsure who its main audience is!

The report starts out promisingly, with its Executive summary, but in fact this isn’t a summary at all. It starts with an explanation of the word ‘digital’, then gives contextual information. This doesn’t belong in a summary  — this is content for an introduction.

The document follows a traditional narrative structure. The reader has little opportunity to jump to a particular section of interest, or to scan the information before deciding whether they’ll read it in full.

The most important parts of the document — the strategy and recommendations — are buried at the end, like a reward for the particularly diligent reader. We suggest bringing the key information forward into the Executive summary, so that even readers who have only a short time to devote to the document can understand and act on its main messages.

Some sentences are very long, up to 61 words, and contain too many ideas.

The report uses a lot of marketing jargon. Jargon words make sentences harder to read and can alienate the audience. Choose clear, concise terms instead to help the reader understand your meaning.

In general, the language of this report is needlessly complex, even when saying something straightforward. The reader has to work very hard to decipher every sentence.

Some aspects, like the Executive summary and pull-quotes, are a step in the right direction. But overall the report needs work to make it clear, engaging, and readable. With some changes to structure, headings, language, and layout, this 74-page report about Hamilton’s digital future could be a compelling read.