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10 tips for clear letters

TDI strongly encourages you to write in clear, simple language. Here are some principles from recognized and researched plain language standards.

  1. Start by stating the document’s purpose. If you are notifying consumers of a rate increase, state that in the subject line, a heading, or very clearly in the first paragraph. Call attention to deadlines for consumer action. Here’s an effective example of a notice at the top of a letter:

    Notice of rate increase and your options

    Decision due date: June 30, 2018

  1. Organize information logically. Present important information first in each section and paragraph.
  1. Use headings to guide readers to important information. Examples of effective headings include:

    What this means

    Ways to reduce the cost

    Options if you can’t afford this increase

    How to get help

  1. Avoid complex terms and jargon. For example:

    Instead of: You qualify for a contingent non-forfeiture benefit.

    Explain what that means: You can still get some of your policy benefits even if you can no longer pay for the policy.

  1. Format your document for clarity. Use lists to outline steps in a process or to help your reader focus on important information.
  1. Select a font, point size, and formatting that are easy to read. Use at least two points of space between lines. Here are a few examples of readable fonts:

    This is 10 point Verdana.

    This is 11 point Arial.

    This is 12 point Times New Roman.

    This is 13 point Garamond.

  1. Use bold for emphasis. Avoid italics, underline, and all caps; these are harder to read.
  1. Short, common words are better than long words. Some examples:
Use Instead of
about regarding or approximately
begin commence
list enumerate
under pursuant to
  1. Keep sentences short and logical. Use active verbs.
  1. Use paragraphs to break up long blocks of text. Use white space so text doesn’t overwhelm readers.

There are many excellent resources on writing in plain language, including PlainLanguage.gov and the Center for Plain Language.

Everyone benefits when consumers understand their options. Please keep these principles in mind when you write for policyholders.

For more information, contact:

Last updated: 6/19/2018