Plain Language Awards

Celebrate the stories of our clearest business communicators

Winner: Best Plain English Sentence Transformation 2018

Ministry of Social Development — Better Letters Project

Judge Maryland Spencer, left, congratulates Louise Beaumont (centre left), Lou Grace-Pickering and Karen Lalor from the Better Letters Project at the Ministry of Social Development. Photo by Rebecca McMillan Photography.

Document name

Fact sheet about sharing information with another organisation

Original sentence

If we detect a problem with your file as part of an information matching programme, we must, under section 103 of the Privacy Act, tell you. We must also tell you of the actions that may be taken as a result of the problem being detected from the programme. The Privacy Act calls these actions “adverse actions”.
[57 words; 3 sentences]

Rewritten sentence

If we find the information we have about you is different from another agency, we may need to change the services we give you. We’ll write to let you know about this before we take any action. If you think the information [Department name] gave us is wrong, please get in touch with us so we can talk about this.
[60 words; 3 sentences]

Judges’ comments

This rewrite is excellent. The original was legal and threatening. It can lead a reader to wonder what their information’s being compared (‘matched’) with, and where it’s being shared.

The sentence is much improved to reduce the technical terms and jargon. The rewrite presents the ideas much, much better than the original.

The three-word sentence in the middle gives the statement a beautiful rhythmic flow. Many short sentences in a row can have what’s called the ‘machine-gun effect’ or ‘staccato effect’ and be just as difficult to assimilate as long sentences.

The rewrite not only captures the intent of the original, it clarifies it and removes all unnecessary legalese.