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Section 5: Sludge audit checklist

This checklist targets the sludge that is commonly found across four broad categories of online funding applications. Each of the four sections includes simple questions to guide your audit, as well as short, practical suggestions for how to improve the application process. 


  • Access and Transparency
  • Navigation and Design
  • Language and Context
  • Next Steps

1. Access and transparency 

Can business owners easily find the right form? 

  • Provide a decision tree to guide clients to the right product and application form 
  • Give each online form a title that indicates what it’s for 
  • Provide searchable information 

Is it clear who qualifies for this product?

  • Place all criteria (inclusion as well as exclusion) at the outset of the form
  • Have the benefits of this funding been highlighted?
  • Explain why this loan can be a better option than self0funding
  • Differentiate the advantages of this fund versus other funds being offered

Is there a checklist of what is needed to complete the application? 

  • Make sure the applicant can see this checklist before starting to apply 
  • Provide easy links to any external forms or documents required 

Have we provided average time requirements to complete the application?

  • Give an average range based on data rom real customers

2. Navigation and Design

Is there a logical and efficient flow to the application? 

  • Make sure that like items are placed in the same section of the application 
  • Wherever possible, pre-populate information fields 
  • Minimize mandatory fields that block applicants from progressing through the rest of the application 

Is there effective use of colour, font size, and spacing? 

  • Use bullet points and lists in place of long blocks of text
  • Use colour and font size to emphasize relevance  

Is the process as upbeat and as error-proof as possible? 

  • Provide progress indicators to encourage applicants to persist
  • Alert applicants to errors as soon as they are made, and provide suggestions for correcting them 

Is it easy for applicants to reach out for help? 

  • Ensure that the language used to direct people to online or in-person support does not increase stigma or embarrassment
  • Provide clear information about when support services are available 

3. Language and Context

Is the language easily understood by the target audience?  

  • When possible, replace financial jargon with simpler, clearer terms
  • Aim for a reading comprehension level of Grade 8 or below 

Does the online experience welcome a diverse range of applicants? 

  •  Incorporate images and user testimonials from a wide range of people 

Is the verbal content supplemented by visual content? 

  • Use widely understood icons and imagery to make content easier to understand  

Is every field and line asking for information that is unique and necessary? 

  • Ensure that there is no unnecessary duplication of information 
  • Protect privacy and dignity by ensuring that all required fields contribute meaningfully to the assessment of the applicant’s suitability  
  • Review application forms regularly to ensure that they include nothing outmoded, unnecessary or biasing  

4. Next Steps

Are applicants told what happens once the funding form has been submitted? 

  • Confirm that the application has been successfully submitted
  • Outline who will be reviewing the information that has been provided, and what will happen at your end 

Do applicants know how long it will take to be approved or denied? 

  • Provide accurate information on how long it will take to receive an answer
  • Provide frequent updates on the status of their application 

Do you have a mechanism for monitoring difficulties and drop-offs? 

  • Ensure that your IT department / consultant can detect parts of the application form associated with requests for help and discontinuation of the process – these are sure signs of sludge
  • Take steps to correct these difficulties