Have you ever noticed that shareholder reports are not always models of clarity or that user agreements for things like cell phones seem longer than strictly necessary?
Fear of lawsuits is one reason why a user guide will add such gems as “use of a phone while… riding a bicycle may be distracting,” but lack of skill also explains the inelegant, sometimes unintelligible communications found in government, academia and commerce.
To highlight the importance of clear expression, the Center for Plain Language held its fifth annual gathering to honor good communicators with its ClearMark awards, but also to extend its booby prize, the WonderMark award, for writing that would leave a reader wondering what exactly was meant.
Unsurprisingly, financial and advice-related communications were not absent from this year’s awards, held Tuesday evening at the National Press Club in Washington. The winner of the dubious WonderMark award was The Columbia Bank for its merchant agreement—a nearly 10,000-word contract whose opening words foretell an unpleasurable reading experience:
“This Merchant Agreement is for merchant card payment processing services among the merchant that signed the Merchant Application (hereinafter referred to as ‘Merchant’) and The Columbia Bank (hereinafter collectively referred to as ‘Bank’).”