While it is proper to admit not being sure of a fact, some claims people get carried away
with the use of “weasel words,” sprinkling them liberally throughout letters to claimants, attorneys, physicians and commissioners. As I review writing samples from participants in my Claims Writing seminars, I see the same hedgy language from Maine to Maui.
Here are six common examples of hedging:
1.“Soon” (also “ASAP,” “at your earliest convenience”) –Use “at your earliest convenience” or “soon” only when you don’t really care exactly when you need to receive something from your correspondent. If, on the other hand, you need something by a week from Friday, make sure that deadline is stated in your letter.
2.“I feel.” Usually this means “I think” or “I believe,” since “feel” implies the sense of touch.
3.“Indicate.” This is an adjuster’s all-purpose hedge word. “The report indicates …” “The doctor indicated …” Oh? How did the doctor do this? Did the doctor write it or say it? Then don’t hide behind “indicate.”
4. “Appear.” “It does not appear that he was billed for …” When I think of the word “appear,” I think of a magician who makes things “appear.” Most of the time “appear” is used as a CYA term: “It appears that you did not sign the form…” If the person clearly did not sign the form, why not write, “you did not sign the form …”
5. Contradictory statements. I run across a number of letters that are hedgy in that they contradict themselves, sending a confusing message to the customer. In one letter, a claims writer wrote in the first paragraph:
“Since we have not received the requested information within the specified time period, we are closing your file in accordance with the following policy provision:”
But one paragraph later, the writer writes:
“If you are still interested in pursuing your claim for disability benefits, please provide us with the necessary information immediately to support your claim for benefits…”
Hmm. Is the file closed or open?
6. Slash Constructions (/). We don’t talk in “slashes” so why do so many adjusters lean on slashes when they write (e.g., his/her, and/or, Dear Sir/Madam). Slash constructions like these take the writer off the hook by asking the reader to make up the writer’s mind. Did you mean “and” or “or”? When a workers’ compensation claims writer says the claim regards “foot/heel” pain, which is it? Foot? Heel? Both?
When you use hedge words, you sound like you’re being evasive even when you don’t intend to be. Next time you find yourself hedging, ask yourself: why am I unsure? Where did I get this information? Usually, an extra moment’s research clears away the doubt that engendered the slash construction.
Are your department’s letters hedge-free? Here are some snippets derived from a single claims letter written by an adjuster at a major insurer:
“I will try to discuss these issues in this letter… It is my understanding that… Although I cannot confirm the extent of the project, it appears… assuming the above to be accurate I am advised that…presumably To the extent that these events did occur… It appears the bathroom could be repaired for $100…I have no knowledge as to why it is alleged to have warped…Thus it is hard to comment upon whether this would be covered …I believe the above covers all of the damage I am aware of.”
How do you rate your department’s correspondence: definitive and authoritative …or vague and hedgy?
I will be happy to e-mail my poster on “Weasel Words and Phrases” to claims professionals who e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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