I am delighted to be writing a twice-monthly column on claims writing for Claims Journal.
This first column will lay out writing issues to be discussed, types of letters written by claims professional and claims areas – such as auto, property, liability, homeowners and workers’ compensation – that have their own special writing challenges. Also, we may occasionally delve into areas such as special investigation unit (SIU), large loss reports, best practices guidelines and style guides.
Let me first introduce myself: My name is Gary Blake and I have been the director of The Communication Workshop for more than 20 years. My business focuses on improving the writing of claims professionals. I present writing webinars and seminars geared to claims professionals, and I have done this throughout the US, UK, Canada and Bermuda. I am fortunate to be the co-author of The Elements of Business Writing, which is in the same line as its famous ancestor, The Elements of Style by Strunk & White.
My goal for the column will be to pass along useful information on claims letter writing, using actual claims letters as examples. When I comment on a letter, I will tell my readers whether the issue under discussion is large or small, and whether they are hearing an opinion or an idea generally agreed upon among writers and editors.
Among the writing topics that will be covered: tone, organization, wordiness, old-fashioned phrases, format, regarding (RE) lines, salutations, closings, breaking up lengthy sentences and paragraphs, vagueness, punctuation, grammar and phrasing. We will touch on areas such as the format of policy language within claims letters, negative and positive tone, and the overuse of “weasel words.”
You are welcome to participate in my column by sending me any anecdotes or stories describing your company’s template letters and any discrepancies you find between these letters and what your own best instincts tell you would be better (e.g., friendlier, fewer mistakes, better word choice, improved format of policy language, etc.). Send your comments to me directly at email@example.com.
I will, on occasion, offer readers free posters, exercises and other brief documents that are concise summaries of everything from the comma rules to sexist language to tips on improving workers’ compensation letters.
Despite the increased role of analytics, social media and technological advances of every description, the heart of the insurance industry is still embodied in the communications send by adjusters to policyholders. If the letters are poor, corporate image suffers. If the writing is inaccurate or not timely, a bad faith lawsuit may be a result. If the letters are inundated with too much jargon, legalese or vagueness, the settlement process may slow to a crawl or your policyholder may just give up on your company and look elsewhere for an insurer who values “plain English.”
So, I look forward to sharing with you the most interesting and colorful examples of how writing goes wrong and how it can be made right-organized, concise, well-phrased and easy to understand. I hope you’ll read my column, enjoy it, spread the word and share your experiences in writing claims letters.
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