The Eight Deadliest Words and Phrases in Insurance
By Dr. Gary Blake
Previously published in Property and Casualty Magazine
- "Yours very truly" (also "Sincerely yours" and "Very truly yours"--You are not theirs. These closings are antiquated. I find myself using "Sincerely" almost all the time.
- "Respectfully"--This closing has a solemn, almost hat-in-hand aspect to it that I dislike. I see it used in denial letters all the time. Perhaps what the writer is thinking is this: "If I use 'Respectfully'‚ it will soften the blow." But, of course, it doesn't. It just adds a somber tone and won't make the reader any happier about having his or her claim denied.
- "Please be advised ..."--A lawyer-like phrase that is almost always unnecessary. Usually you are not so much giving "advice" as you are "telling" or "informing." Save this phrase for the act of giving of advice. But no need to write: "Please be advised that the check is overdue." Simply write: "The check is overdue." Instead of "I advised him to call me tomorrow," just write "I told [or asked] him to call me tomorrow." Maybe "told" has a bit too harsh a tone for some, in which case feel free to use this "advice" as needed. But "advise" or "be advised" is almost always overkill.
- "Kindly"--"Please" works better than this old fashioned word.
- "I have forwarded..." "I am forwarding"--In
e mail, "forwarding" does have a specific meaning: the sending of
materials from someone other than the writer to the reader. In other
cases (e.g., I am forwarding my business card to you), just use "send."
- "Above-captioned claim" (also: "above referenced claim," date of loss, etc.)--Any of these phrases tells the reader to stop reading, roll his eyes back to the "RE line," find the information, and then re-enter the letter to continue its reading. Wouldn't it be easier to just summarize the salient information in the letter itself? In other words, if the "above-mentioned claim" refers to "Smith vs. Jones," why not write, "In the Smith vs. Jones claim..." Sometimes the "above" will refer to a claim number. In this case, just put the claim number in the letter itself. The trick in writing is keep the reader reading with as few distractions as possible.
- "Please note that..."--Again, here's a phrase that may seem innocent but it has, for me, a rather schoolmarmish tone ("Now, pay attention!"). I'd omit the phrase.
- "Enclosed please find..."--This phrase, more than any other in the world of business writing, epitomizes the lawyer-like way people start to write when they are either desperate to avoid using a pronoun like "I" or simply love to repeat phrases they‚ve seen in other letters without ever thinking for themselves. After all, what do you have to "find"?
It reminds me of a joke. A guy goes into a restaurant and orders a steak dinner. Later, the waiter walks over to the table, smiles obsequiously, and asks "How did you find your steak?" The guy looks at the waiter and says, "I just moved the mashed potatoes--and there it was!" And when The Beatles were returning home after coming to the United States, a journalist asked them: "How did you find America?" One of the Fab Four answered, "We turned left at Greenland." Enough said! There's nothing to "find." Use "enclosed is..." or "I've enclosed."
Gary Blake is a Port Washington, NY-based writing consultant who presents on-site writing seminars for claims, underwriting, and other insurance professionals. His clients include Allstate, CNA, AIG, State Farm, and Western Reserve Insurance.
Copyright, Gary Blake, The Communication Workshop