We’re head-over-heels for plain language, and we’re always excited when we find others who share our passion. Take Southern Cross Travel Insurance (SCTI): we’ve just awarded the WriteMark to their new domestic travel policy.
SCTI decided the time was right to offer an insurance policy that would help New Zealanders feel safe and secure when travelling around New Zealand. The WriteMark shows that SCTI is dedicated to bringing their customers a policy that’s clear and easy to understand.
Nick Bassett, Acting Head of Sales, Product and Marketing, says they wrote the policy with their customers in mind:
We’re committed to providing our customers with excellent service, and knowing what they’re covered for when they buy their policy is incredibly important. The WriteMark stamp is an endorsement of transparency and integrity, which is why we’re so pleased to have launched our first policy document in plain language, and to have achieved this recognition.
To celebrate, we’ve created a video that showcases everything there is to love about an insurance policy with the WriteMark.
Insurance should give us peace of mind because we know we have support in times of stress and uncertainty. A policy written with everyday words, short sentences, and useful headings locks in that peace of mind, because you know exactly what you’re covered for.
By writing your insurance policy in plain language, you’re showing that you care about your customers and can think from their perspective. Your transparency will help build their trust.
Want to start your own plain language love story? Ask yourself what your reader needs from you, and make sure you deliver it in a way that’s easy to understand.
Insurance cover is complicated, and your readers will thank you for finding a way to lead them through it, without all the jargon. You’ll find lots of helpful tips in our easy-to-use checklist — the Write Plain Language Standard.
Download Write’s free Plain Language Standard
Take our Plain Language Foundations online course
Read our recent blog post on how plain language can help institutions win back trust
Find out more about getting a WriteMark assessment
Forsyth Barr is celebrating Summer this week. Their Summer KiwiSaver scheme’s product disclosure statement (PDS) is shining bright because it has again met the WriteMark Plain Language Standard. The Summer KiwiSaver PDS is now in its fifth year of reaching this sought-after confirmation of clarity.
The PDS has new content to reflect both legislative changes and changes to risk indicators for some of the scheme’s funds. Investors can still easily learn about how the Summer KiwiSaver scheme works, its risks, and what rights they have when investing.
Trish Oakley, Head of Summer, is determined to keep the standard of clarity high.
The WriteMark shows our continued commitment to plain English and to making KiwiSaver easy for our members to understand. That way they can make informed decisions.
Each time the document changes, we’ll make sure it continues to hold the WriteMark. That shows our commitment to transparency and accessibility.
Like the team at Summer, we think clear writing in financial documents is important to help consumers make good investment decisions. You shouldn’t have to be a financial expert to be able to understand the financial information that affects you.
In a field that’s known for complexity, issuing a really clear statement about your product has far-reaching effects. A financial institution can build trust and goodwill by communicating clearly with its customers. And that’s a bright outlook for all of us.
How can you get started on creating a clear financial document? Our evergreen advice is to consider your reader’s needs and put yourself in their shoes.
Think about the purpose of your document. Explore ways you can convey complex information simply, so that people who are not financial experts can understand your writing. You’ll find lots of helpful tips in our easy-to-use checklist — the Write Plain Language Standard.
Download Write’s free Plain Language Standard
Download Write’s free ebook Unravelling Financial Jargon
Check out the Financial Markets Authority’s glossary of financial terms on the FMA website
Find out more about getting a WriteMark assessment
We all hope we’ll always be able to make our own decisions about our healthcare. But what if we can’t?
The Kimble Center for Legal Drafting, based at Western Michigan University–Cooley Law School in the US, has published a new Power of Attorney document. People can use the Power of Attorney to set up someone they trust to make decisions about their healthcare if they’re not able to. What’s more, the Power of Attorney is easy to understand — and it’s free to use for US citizens.
The Kimble Center’s legal team decided they wanted their new document to be top of its class. So they first asked the members of their advisory board for feedback. Then they applied for another layer of review through the WriteMark assessment process.
The WriteMark assessment considers purpose, structure, content, language, and design as part of a rigorous document analysis.
The Center engaged the team at Gusto Design to create a design that would support clarity and readability.
Annette Ellis, Creative Director at Gusto, explains:
We worked with the Kimble Center for Legal Drafting to make a complex process clear and easy to understand. The plain language used for the Power of Attorney form is visually supported using design elements that guide the user through the form, making it easy for them to understand and fill out.
Instructions are provided as shaded boxes adjacent to the form fields, providing users with additional information that helps them understand how to fill out the form correctly. This extra guidance is critical to ensure the form accurately captures their wishes.
With its plain language and simple design, the Power of Attorney for My Health Care goes to the top of its class. It meets all the elements of the WriteMark Plain Language Standard — and it’s the first document of its type to achieve the Standard.
Joseph Kimble, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at WMU–Cooley Law School, acknowledges the input from the WriteMark team:
I’m grateful for the invaluable suggestions we received from Anne-Marie Chisnall (a member of our international board of advisers) and then from the WriteMark assessment team. Those suggestions significantly improved almost every page.
Since we originally published this story, researchers at Michigan State University have user-tested the Power of Attorney document. The Kimble Center applied recommendations from the user-testing report and did a little rewording and redesigning of the document. With these changes, the Power of Attorney achieved WriteMark Plus.
WriteMark Plus is awarded to documents that have reached the WriteMark Standard and that also undergo user-testing for further fine-tuning.
The Kimble Center for Legal Drafting paves the way for innovative legal documents. This article on the Center’s website describes its origins and goals.
Fairer insurance for all New Zealanders dovetails perfectly with the WriteMark’s mission of a fairer society where everybody can get the information they need.
This week the Insurance Council of New Zealand published the Fair Insurance Code 2020. The Code helps to build trust and confidence in the insurance industry, which may lead to a fairer financial system for all of us.
The Code safeguards consumers by committing general insurers to:
As the Code has reached a high standard for plain language, we’re pleased to say it has also earned the WriteMark. This means it has a clear purpose, structure, language, and design. Readers can understand and act on the information they need. For example, the Code tells readers at the start what to expect:
…The code describes how your relationship with your insurer should work, including what you need to tell them and how they need to respond.
- explains what the Fair Insurance Code covers and who it applies to
- describes the responsibilities you and your insurance company have
- explains what should happen when you make a claim or a complaint.
The Code uses straightforward language that talks directly to readers and is easy to understand. Sentences are short and uncomplicated. The writers have also made sure the Code is accessible for readers and speakers of other languages, and have produced a version in New Zealand Sign Language.
Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs Kris Faafoi describes insurance as a critical service that needs to support consumer financial resilience, and not undermine it. When insurers comply with the Code, consumers will find it easier to access financial support when the unexpected happens.
Allowing the insurance industry to self-regulate works with the law and helps to:
The Fair Insurance Code has ticked boxes for all 28 elements of the WriteMark plain language standard. But the Code’s impact and clarity add up to a lot more than that — and that’s fair.
So, believing what you do about the power of plain language, my question to you as both writer and consumer is, ‘What action can you take that is bigger and bolder than before?’ How can you make your sense of care count?
Lynda Harris, Chief Executive of Write and WriteMark, talked about care as a catalyst for change in her speech at the Plain English Awards ceremony in November 2018. She went on to say:
Make your effort meaningful! What significant project needs your support and insights? Which of your reader groups are most in need? Who must you persuade? Where can you make a difference?
One way to make a bold and meaningful difference is to earn the WriteMark Plain Language Standard on your document or website. This mark of ‘care in action’ isn’t necessarily easy to achieve, but the payoff is powerful. To meet the Standard, you’ll need to be committed to the process — and persistent.
The rigorous WriteMark process sets up a partnership of care where document creators commit to plain language for their readers. Documents that reach the Standard have been checked against 28 elements covering purpose, structure, content, language, presentation, and accuracy. WriteMark Plus adds user-testing with readers to the mix as well.
The writers, editors, designers, legal teams, and others who create WriteMark-ready documents often work together for a long time. The WriteMark review recognises the work everyone has put in so far and checks for any final changes needed to achieve the Standard.
If you start on the WriteMark journey, you’ll need to consider feedback from your WriteMark assessor. The document will probably change as your team considers the feedback and decides how to implement it. If you aim for WriteMark Plus, you’ll also get feedback from real readers who reflect the characteristics of your intended audience.
Whatever the source of the feedback, you’ll know that it’s intended to help shape your document into one that exemplifies the best of plain language for the benefit of all readers. A document that reflects the care of all the professionals who have crafted it — and care for the readers who will ultimately read, understand, and act on it.
Once you’re on the way to achieving the Standard, you’ll sign an agreement called the WriteMark Deed. The Deed sets out our WriteMark relationship and explains how it works now, and for the future.
We’ll both celebrate and spread the news, hoping to inspire others to aim high for clarity and care for their readers.
When something catastrophic happens at home, you need to act fast. Can you imagine trying to get help like this?
“I need to undertake a disclosure with you. I’ll give you the full particulars. A bodily injury has occurred directly or indirectly. And I’m worried about the remediation. Can I priority request you and your apparatus be utilised to assist with the contamination damage?”
These convoluted phrases pepper real insurance documents. But when people need to understand what’s covered and how to make a claim, they need clear, accurate information that’s easy to navigate.
We’re thrilled that more insurance companies are taking this seriously.
Some companies are working hard on their legalese, rewriting dense, internally focused policies, forms, and letters so they are easy to read, easy to understand, and written for the reader rather than the writer.
And each year a few more make the WriteMark grade.
Tower Insurance is one of the latest. Tower’s recent commercials proudly proclaim that they now have the WriteMark on 14 home, contents, and vehicle policies. Their campaign dismantles difficult words and shows the difference straightforward language can make.
Tower’s image of the word ‘appurtenance’ exploding symbolises their mission to simplify insurance.
And it had us scratching our heads.
Because, even though our WriteMark assessors include authors, linguists, editors, teachers, and all-round word nerds, many of us didn’t know what ‘appurtenance’ meant.
These are people who send emails headed ‘Noun string of the day’, and can spend half an hour discussing the subtle difference between ‘moved home recently’ or ‘recently moved home’. They savour the richness, elegance, and (let’s be honest) perverseness of the English language.
We can all appreciate that ‘appurtenance’ is a lovely-sounding word with a fascinating etymology.
Middle English apertenant, from Anglo-French appurtenant, present participle of apurtenir to belong — more at ‘appertain’
Middle English apperteinen, from Anglo-French apurtenir, from Late Latin appertinēre, from Latin ad- + pertinēre to belong — more at ‘pertain’
But we’re also citizens and policy holders, who need to find our way through important information, often under stress. In times like these we want clarity, not a linguistic lift. We want information where writers have put the effort in to help us make decisions and take action.
We know it’s not straightforward, and companies that have reached the WriteMark Standard for some documents deserve recognition for their courage and commitment. And once one or two documents have met the Standard, it’s very easy to spot those that still need work.
Congratulations to Tower!
In home insurance, an appurtenance is a piece of property associated with the main dwelling. For example, it includes the garden and trees, and other structures on the property such as garages, decks, and swimming pools. It also includes items that are in some way part of the house, such as air-conditioning units, furnaces, and septic systems.
— many of which could catch on fire!
You’ve got sparkling content, you want to show customers that you care about their needs, and you’re ready to wear your heart on your sleeve (or the WriteMark logo on your document).
What do you do?
We’ve made the process for getting the WriteMark straightforward and transparent — as easy as 1-2-3.
Get in touch and let us know what sort of content you’d like us to assess, and whether it’s one document or webpage, or part of something bigger. We’ll give you a price and a timeframe.
Once we have your document, our assessors get to work holding it up against the 28 elements of the WriteMark Standard. These elements fall into 5 categories.
If you’re applying for the WriteMark Plus, we’ll also look at how you tested your content with readers and any changes you made based on their feedback.
We’ll give you a written assessment. You’ll easily see where your document or digital content has met an element of the WriteMark Standard, and where it might need more work.
If something doesn’t meet the Standard straight away, we’ll explain why and suggest how to fix it. We’ll also give you an idea of the scale of the problem, and explain why it matters.
You can then make the changes, or ask us to.
Here’s an example of what we might suggest to help you improve your sentences to meet the Standard:
We suggest you rewrite some long sentences to make them shorter, clearer, and easier for readers to scan. For example:
If any claim under this or any other policy with us is supported by any incorrect, incomplete, or fraudulent information or statement, then your claim is not payable and this policy will be automatically terminated from the date that the information or statement was supplied to us, or the statement or fraudulent claim was made to us. We may also terminate any other policy you have with us at the same time.
(Two sentences: 57 + 15 words)
You could write
If you claim under this policy and give us any incorrect, incomplete, or fraudulent information or statements, we may:
- refuse your claim
- end your policy from the date you supplied misleading information or statements
- end any other policy you have with us.
(One sentence broken into bullet points: 41 words)
We’ll look at your document again, and either award it the WriteMark or let you know where you still need to make changes.
You can ask us questions at any stage. Our team of assessors is here to help — we understand that it’s not always straightforward getting agreement from everyone involved in bringing a piece of writing to life. We’ve learned successful ways to communicate complex terms that at first seem intractable.
Our assessment criteria are based on reader testing, cognitive fluency research, national and international standards, and many years of experience. We work on behalf of readers and in partnership with you.
After Step 3, you’re ready to tell the world that your document meets the highest standard of clarity and customer care.
Achieving and displaying the WriteMark:
If you make changes to your content after receiving the WriteMark, you’ll need to check back with us to make sure it still meets the WriteMark Standard. Once you’re in the swing of hitting the clarity standard every time, we can show you even more ways to polish your content to perfection.
Australia’s Budget Direct Insurance is always looking for ways to set itself apart from the competition. In 2017 the company identified the opportunity to improve the overall customer experience, by creating the easiest-to-understand Home and Contents Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) in the marketplace.
After a highly worthwhile journey — that took a little longer than expected — the new PDS was published this week. And it became the world’s first document carrying the heart with a tick — not just the prestigious WriteMark, but the ultimate WriteMark Plus.
When a document or website holds the WriteMark, customers know that the writing meets a very high standard of clarity. Experts have evaluated the writing against rigorous criteria, emphasising the needs of the audience. The WriteMark Plus includes testing the document with the intended audience.
By mid-2018, Budget Direct had spent 12 months gathering information about the challenge ahead:
Struggling to find good examples to follow, they extended their search. They saw that Tower in New Zealand had won an award in the Plain Language Awards. They phoned us to ask who did our type of work in Australia. ‘We do,’ we told them. Two of our consultants travelled to Brisbane to talk about Budget Direct’s vision for the document and how we could help.
The project involved a lot more than a simple rewrite. For the change to be permanent, Write and the project team at Budget Direct needed to bring the rest of the organisation along with them.
Legal and compliance teams had to be satisfied that the changes reduced risk rather than introducing it. Systems and processes had to change with the new content. Every piece of content needed to be tracked through each stage of writing, review, editing, and testing.
Fortunately, Budget Direct took the time they needed to deliver the best result.
After lots of hard work, the Budget Direct PDS for the Home and Contents Policy is at last ready to take its place in the market. It’s now easy to read, understand, and act on. Insurance customers have endorsed the change. And the policy carries the WriteMark Plus to confirm all that care has paid off.
Budget Direct told us at the start of the project that success is when customers say, ‘Wow! I didn’t know insurance could be this easy.’
‘Write made it easy. Customers now have a quality PDS that’s easy to read and understand. Our consultants love it because they can now have more informative conversations and deliver greater value to our customers.’
That was Write’s goal. That’s why we’re proud to have given Budget Direct a document with heart.
Check out Gusto, the wonderful designers who worked on the document.
Explore the design in Gusto’s portfolio of recent work
And you can view the whole document at the WriteMark holders page.
What’s better than a ‘force for good’ advancing the quality of communication for everyday New Zealanders?
Two forces for good.
WriteMark is the founding sponsor of New Zealand’s Plain English Awards — a celebration of clear communication and a public pat on the back for plain English champions.
For 14 years WriteMark has backed the Plain English Awards Trust to fund, organise, promote, host, and celebrate the annual Awards. The Awards recognise commitment to clear language on all scales — whether it’s across an organisation as a whole or down to a sentence that shines.
But it’s not just about wiping out the waffle. It’s about everyone’s right to take part in society. Information needs to be easy to read, understand, and act on — for all of us.
The effect of WriteMark joining forces with the Plain English Awards has been profound. Feedback has shown that the Awards:
A piece of communication displaying the WriteMark, or that has won a Plain English Award, shows the world that writers have thought carefully about their readers. And it shows readers that they can expect to easily understand and act on the information in front of them.
Now that’s a winning combination.
It’s no coincidence that the WriteMark logo is shaped like a heart. From a flicker of frustration in the late 90s to ‘the Oscars of plain language’ today, the notion of heart has pulsed through.
Heart in the sense of care and commitment to customers, and heart in the sense of backbone and determination.
In 1999, after almost 10 years helping people write better business documents, Write Limited’s Lynda Harris felt a growing discontent.
‘I felt that we weren’t yet making enough of a difference.’
With a few notable exceptions, we were still being asked to train groups of 12–14, rather than whole organisations. This meant that the effect of the training was often quickly undone by well-meaning managers. The pull of business-as-usual was strong.
‘A lot of our clients openly said they wrote in plain English, or had set that as an expectation, but in the thousands of business documents that passed through our hands each year, we saw very little in practice.’
It was crucial to get everyone to truly see what clear writing looked like, and to understand the profound effect it had on relationships and revenue.
Two things were needed: a clear standard of plain language and an easy way to show when something had met that standard.
In 2000, Write began working with the UK-based Plain English Campaign and its badge of clarity — the Crystal Mark. The Crystal Mark showcased organisations that really cared about communicating clearly and openly. And it introduced both a quality standard and a way of recognising you’d met it.
But the UK-priced Crystal Mark proved too expensive for New Zealand businesses and didn’t feel relevant for our market. After 2 years, Lynda knew she had to try again with something just right for New Zealand.
It took time, courage, and commitment, but by mid-2004 the idea for New Zealand’s homegrown WriteMark had started coming to life.
‘We were a small, highly skilled company, passionate and dedicated to spreading the plain language message. If we were going to launch our own mark, it had to work.
‘We held focus groups in the public and private sectors and did extensive research into international plain language organisations. We set and refined the elements that make up the WriteMark Standard, and set up a training and moderation process for assessors.
‘We based our fees as low as we could to encourage all New Zealand organisations to invest in plain English. We offered free WriteMark assessments to organisations that had already advertised a commitment to plain English. They could immediately see the benefits of a standard-based assessment.’
On 1 March 2005, the WriteMark launched, and it didn’t take long for businesses and government to take notice.
Over the years WriteMark’s assessors have checked hundreds of documents against 28 criteria, and helped writers make changes where their documents don’t measure up.
The WriteMark criteria reflect internationally recognised benchmarks for plain language and clear online communication. They include plain language, usability, suitability for the target audience, and design.
Although grown in New Zealand, the WriteMark also distinguishes quality documents and websites overseas.
Recent recipients of the WriteMark say the quality mark is the ultimate achievement for advocates of plain language. It reassures readers that something is clear, expert, and has reliable information that people can follow.
Achieving the WriteMark shows your genuine care and consideration for customers, with a side effect of saving time and building trust.
Today, holders of the WriteMark can go even further to show they’re committed to excellent communication with customers. WriteMark Plus combines an expert assessor view with insights from the people who matter.
A WriteMark Plus quality mark shows that you’ve also rigorously tested your content on real people in your target audience
For Lynda, it has always been about real people and using the power of words for good.
‘People can communicate their ideas and get the information they need. And ultimately it leads to a fairer, more respectful society.’
A society with heart.