For changing long, complicated forms that help people when they are shopping for home loans into shorter, more easily understood forms, the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau’s (CPFB) Loan Estimate Form was honored with the Center for Plain Language’s Grand ClearMark Award as the best example of clear, concise communication. In contrast, a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) consent decree aimed at providing information to the owners of trucking and bus companies to improve safety captured the Grand WonderMark Award as the most confusing, complex document. The awards were presented at the Center for Plain Language’s fifth annual national ClearMark Awards, April 22, 2014, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

“When a government agency such as CPFB, turns two long, head-scratching forms into one that’s shorter, clearer and easier to use, the Center for Plain Language rejoices,” said Annetta L. Cheek, PhD, Chair, Board of Directors, Center for Plain Language. “The testing that went into this redesign – both before and after – is impressive, and shows in the results.”

The Center’s Grand WonderMark Award was captured by FMCSA, part of the Department of Transportation that was created to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities involving large trucks and buses. The Grand WonderMark Award was a consent decree for owners of trucking and bus companies to help them comply with safety regulations.

As one judge pointed out, “One hundred percent of the owners complained about the document, but FMCSA has not improved it.” Another judge added that there was simply no thought given to the audience receiving the document. And another summed it up by saying the document was created, “Of the lawyers, by the lawyers, for the lawyers.”

In addition to these top award recipients, the Center for Plain Language named a top honoree in each award category as well as ClearMarks of Distinction (a plain language role model). Here are the category honorees:

WINNER: UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement, Happiness Counts Kit. ClearMark of Distinction Awards: CommunicateHealth (Rockville) and Unum.

Original–Public Sector
WINNER: University of Rhode Island, Kingston, Are You A Smart Well Owner? ClearMark of Distinction Awards: National Climatic Data Center (NOAA) and CFPB.

WINNER: AARP, AARP Smart Driver Participant Guidebook. ClearMark of Distinction Awards: AARP (2 ClearMarks of Distinction), March of Dimes, and The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth.

WINNER: American Bankruptcy Institute, Law Review, Clarifying The Authority Of Bankruptcy Litigation Trusts. ClearMark of Distinction Awards: Aetna and United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (Cincinnati).

WINNER: Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Boston, Consumer Directed Health Care Plans with Health Savings Plans. ClearMark of Distinction Awards: Health Care Service Corporation (Chicago) and CFPB.

Before and After–Private Sector
WINNER: Aetna, Redesign of Aetna Medicare Advantage Enrollment Packet 2014. ClearMark of Distinction Awards: Aetna and Wellpoint.

Before and After–Public Sector
WINNER: CFPB, Loan Estimate Form (Grand ClearMark Award). ClearMark of Distinction Awards: University of Rhode Island, U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and National Diabetes Education Program (NIH).

Before and After–Nonprofit
WINNER: Health Care Service Corporation, Claims Letters. ClearMark of Distinction Award: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.

WINNER: Unum, ClearMark of Distinction Award: Sun Life Financial (Toronto).

WINNER: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Don’t Mess With Mercury. ClearMark of Distinction Awards: Department of Information Resources (Texas) and the Social Security Administration.

WINNER: AARP, Washington, D.C., AARP Health Law Answers. ClearMark of Distinction Awards: Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of West Virginia and Health Care Service Corporation.

While the ClearMark Awards honored the best examples of plain language communications, the WonderMark Awards (as in “I wonder what they were thinking when they wrote this document?”) were presented to the submissions that reflect the most confusing language. In addition to FMCSA, the WonderMark Award recipients included hospital discharge papers full of jargon, a 47-word road sign and a confusing letter from Revenu Quebec (Canada).

To read more about the awards, go to

About The Center for Plain Language

The Center for Plain Language is a D.C.-based nonprofit organization that wants government and business documents to be clear and understandable. We support those who use plain language, train those who should use plain language, and urge people to demand plain language in all the documents they receive, read, and use.


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