Why Good Writing Skills Matter

By Denise Johnson | February 23, 2012

It’s a good thing claims departments aren’t graded on writing skills because the state of writing within most claims departments today isn’t good, according to Dr. Gary Blake, who sees an average of six to eight mistakes per letter.

“Most claims people are writing more each week than most professional writers and yet they haven’t had a class in writing since college,” the owner of The Communication Workshop said.

The most common mistakes Blake sees include:

  • Punctuation and grammar issues mostly with commas, apostrophes and hyphens
  • Grammatical issues such as run-on sentences, sentence fragments and trouble with problematic pronouns (me and I)
  • Substantive problems, tone issues like “we are unable to do this” as opposed to “if you do this we will be able to help you”
  • Old-fashioned phrases: “as per,” “pursuant to,” “enclosed please find”
  • Wordiness
  • Vagueness

Claims professionals should not expect template letters to reduce the likelihood of errors, Blake said.

“Even the template letters which make some claim executives think that they are off the hook in terms of needing help with writing are not very good either,” said Blake, who is often hired to rewrite and update all of a department’s letters.

While it is helpful to have some letters ready to go, a template letter only provides a starting point.

“The problem is some people forget to mold it to a particular customer,” Blake said. “People tend to not understand that the template letters are just a beginning point, they are not meant to be the exact thing that goes out to a particular customer.”

He offers an example of a pre-fill template letter where an adjuster forgot to choose a pre-fill option, likely causing confusion for the recipient.

One way to avoid common mistakes is by using a company style guide.

“Only about one in every 100 claims organizations I’ve seen has its own style guide,” Blake said. “If you have a style guide what you are doing is you are capturing all of the questions that people who are sitting at their desk grumbling about or wasting a morning about in terms of ‘do I use this serial comma or not.’”

Blake thinks a 10-to-30 page customized claims writing style guide would be a handy resource for new hires.

“The beauty of a style guide is to answer those questions within the framework of the corporate culture within a particular claims department. That goes a long way to solving a company’s writing problems,” Blake said.

During seminars, Blake uses actual letters as examples to demonstrate the right and wrong way to construct a sentence and paragraph. He will also show how negative tone can be avoided because problems with tone can affect the end result of a claim. He customizes his classes to the particular department or group he is working with at the time.

Good writing is particularly helpful when files are discoverable, Blake added.

“You’d be amazed at the number of claims people who just are not aware that they are crossing the line between objectivity and subjectivity,” Blake said.

According to Blake, who is currently writing his twelfth book, “The Right and Wrong of Writing,” there are many reasons why good writing skills are important to a claims department.

“Bad writing hurts customer service, causes embarrassing errors, takes away from professionalism and can lead to bad faith lawsuits,” according to Blake. “Those are some of the reasons I think that claims departments need to remain motivated in terms of getting their letters as good as possible.”

Blake offers claims departments a variety of options to improving claims writing skills, including webinars on auto claims and workers’ compensation claims writing and full day on-site seminars in the U.S., Canada and the UK.

Dr. Blake is director of The Communication Workshop, a firm devoted to helping improve insurance communications. He is the author of four books on writing, including The Elements of Business Writing, used as a text at more than 150 carriers. Dr. Blake’s website is www.writingworkshop.com.

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.