Word Choice in Claims Letters, Part 1

By Gary Blake | October 20, 2017

The following bullets point out random errors in word choice. You may not lose a client because you make a poor word choice, but you’re not helping the relationship along either. Here are several word choice issues to watch for as you phrase your letters:

  • “ABC Insurance Company will make no voluntary payment of your claim…” Voluntary?
  • e.g., and i.e., most people don’t know the difference. Use e.g., when you are giving examples; use i.e., to introduce your thought “in other words.”
  • “Exception” and “exclusion” are words that have their own meanings. One adjuster wrote,” the exception that pertains to your loss can be found in your policy and is provided below for your reference. I think the word should be “exclusion.”

Here’s the difference: An insurance policy tells you what is covered.

Exclusions are classes of items that are not covered, such as nuclear war, acts of God, or terrorism. Exceptions are “exclusions to the exclusions, reinstating particular items within a whole category that had been “excluded.” For example, a homeowner’s policy may have an exclusion for all motorized vehicles. The exception to that exclusion might be a lawnmower, because a mower helps service the premises.

  • “Said” – Very legalistic: “Said payment would allow you a discount of $300.” Just write, “This payment would allow you a discount of $300.”
  • “Regard” and “Regards.” Do not write, “This is in regards to…” Write, “This is in regard to…”
  • “Were” and “was.” Take the phrase, “If there were no coverage…” It seems as if “was” should be correct, but actually “were” is correct. Using “were,” known as the subjunctive mood in English, represents situations contrary to fact. One way to remember the correct use of “were” is to think of a well-know contradiction of fact from well known songs from the musical, Fiddler on the Roof: “If I were a rich man…. Or, take the title of this song: “I wish I were in love again.”
  • “Confirm.” When you confirm a lunch date, you restate your agreement as to the time and place. In insurance, however, it’s common to see a claims letter that starts, “This will confirm my phone call of 4/11/17. But what does “confirm” mean? Is the writer summarizing the previous call? Documenting it? Confirming is something you do to re-check a future date or agreement. Mark Twain once said, “Use the right word and not its second cousin.”
  • “Advise.” About 80 percent of the time claims people use “advise,” they just mean “tell” or “inform”. No need to use “advise” in a sentence like, “Let me advise you that it will rain today.” There is no “advice” being given. However, if you write, “Let me advise you to bring your umbrella,” you are using “advise” correctly.

Before long, I will write a second part to this word choice column because there are so many claims examples of word choices that do not hit the mark.

If you have pet peeves about three or four words or expressions you see misused in your department, please e-mail them to me at garyblake725.com and I will send you a lengthier version of this article along with two of my 2-color writing posters.

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About Gary Blake

Gary Blake is director of The Communication Workshop, offering claims writing webinars and seminars to claims professionals throughout the US, Bermuda, Canada, and the UK. Blake is the author of The Elements of Business Writing (Pearson Education), used at more than 100 insurance companies. He has written about claims writing for a number of industry publications. His e-mail is garyblake725@gmail.com.

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