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The Claims Writing Workshop: Write How You Speak! Just Leave Out The Color Commentary

Don’t make your claims writing complicated when you can keep it simple!

I was startled by a claims manager who shook his head sorrowfully and told me, “It’s terrible. All my adjusters write the way they speak!”

I thought, “How strange. Writers should write the way they speak.”

When I asked the manager what he disliked about writing that sounds like human speech, he said, “The writing is too colloquial, too disorganized — like stream of consciousness — and it doesn’t get to the point.”

Well, colloquialism and slang are not called for in claims writing, but natural, simple writing that sounds the way one human being would speak to another is certainly preferable to the legalese and jargon that permeates so many claims letters.

As for lack of organization, it’s true that speech is a more spontaneous medium than writing. No one expects us always to talk in full sentences or get to the point instantly or not digress occasionally in a conversation. Writing does require a plan and should get to the point quickly. This “plan of action,” meshed with the warmth and color of human speech, yields the best writing.

Leave out old-fashioned phrases, clichés, or pompous phrases

Anyone who has ever dictated a letter has had to confront the sounds of old-fashioned phrases, clichés, or pompous phrases that they have written. Suddenly, there may be a moment of awareness that what has been dictated is a far cry from how you would have expressed the same thoughts in a conversation. So “writing the way you speak,” with obvious caveats, is good advice.

If you hear yourself ramping up small words into big ones, ask yourself why you are doing this. Are you trying to sound “businesslike”? Are you showing that you have been educated and know these big words? Are you parroting what an attorney just wrote to you? None of these reasons justifies using noticeably
stodgy or cliché language in a letter.

I think that many managers believe that “writing the way you speak” opens the floodgates to colloquialism, slang, and careless punctuation that may be used in e-mails will be used when writing to insureds, attorneys, and claims commissioners.

But e-mail is a separate entity from a business letter. It occupies a place somewhere between the informality of speech and the relative formality of a business letter. You might not always use a complete salutation (e.g., “Dear Mr. Wheeler” in an e-mail, but you would certainly use one in a letter. You might skip the closing (e.g., “Sincerely,”) in an e-mail, but don’t try it in a business letter.

Don’t Intimidate

The harshest criticism of claims letters is that they are intimidating. This has several unpleasant side effects. First, an intimidated insured might well call an attorney just to decipher the letter. Second, the letter’s tone can be so abrupt, formalistic, or threatening as to cause an insured to fight back harder or at least to slow up the claim handling. Third, if the adjuster writes a convoluted letter that also happens to break with the company’s idea of proper claims handling, a judge or jury will be less forgiving because they will react as much to the letter’s language as to the details of how the claim was handled.

So, write using the model of speech’s simplicity, directness, and warmth. Just don’t  mirror speech’s unplanned distraction and tendency to ramble.

Posted in Claims Writing Workshop, SPOT on Issues.

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One Response

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  1. the closer says

    From a strict sense, everything you say in your article is correct. Notwithstanding that, I always use “elevated” vocabulary in my reports and the vast majority are approved by examiners on the first submittal. I think this is because most adjusters aren’t very good writers (I’m referring to P&C property adjusters and am basing this on the many prior-claim reports I’ve read of a prior claim’s report.) Therefore, if one can use words such as remuneration instead of payment, for example, and they can do so without coming off like they’re trying to throw a big word in (not an easy task) AND they consistently get their files approved on the first submittal, then using this type of vocabulary and syntax can be beneficial, at least it has been for me in my eight-year career.

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