By Liezl van Zyl

If you could fix one thing

It’s hard to accept, but we can’t always fix everything. Sometimes we don’t have the budget, or we don’t have the time. This mini-series is dedicated to making one plain language change that has the most impact. The most ‘bang for your buck’ if you would.
Today’s example is from an insurance policy. Go figure. While we’ve seen some players in the insurance industry make an effort to use plain language and to improve their UX design in general, the industry still has a long way to go.

Here’s our catch of the day:


The general terms and conditions in this section apply to all aspects of my policy.

My policy

The contract includes the:

  • Policy wording and
  • Coversheet

Consensus between myself and [THE COMPANY] needs to be reached on the risk(s) to be insured, insured value, type of cover, terms and conditions, commencement date, premium and collection dates. My policy will be activated once my first premium is received by [THE COMPANY]. I am accordingly informed thereof by [THE COMPANY].

I must ensure that all the information supplied by me, or anyone acting on my behalf, is correct and complete as any incorrect information may affect the validity of my contract or prejudice any claim I might have under this policy.


What’s the one plain language thing we’d fix? The weird first-person style.

Plain language guidelines usually include a reference to using personal pronouns. Personal pronouns decrease the distance between the author and the reader, and they decrease the level of formality of the document. In short, people want to feel like you know who they are and you’re speaking to them. It’s part of communicating with empathy and improving the user experience of your product or service. When I read the example it made me feel uncomfortable. But why?

‘I’ is usually the speaker.

When you read this policy you spend precious processing capacity trying to figure out who you are. I do enough of that on my own time.

Tip: save the first person for novels and love letters.

My inside voice doesn’t sound like this.

Does yours? Mine sounds more like this: *Picks up policy wording* I wonder what I’m covered against? This font is really nice; I wonder what it is? Goodness, this coffee is hot…did I forget the stove on?

Tip: Treat it as a dialogue between the company and the client. Use ‘you’ and ‘we’.

Like this:

The general terms and conditions apply to your whole policy.

We will activate your policy when we receive your first premium.

The first-person style is very informal.

Despite the first-person style, this policy wording is actually extremely formal – just like any other legal document you would expect to receive from an insurer.

Tip: Bring legal, compliance, sales, and marketing into the same room and have a conversation about the image the company wants to project and how they can do that while still meeting all the legal requirements.

If you want to take a less formal approach and use personal pronouns, at least also remove the unnecessary information, the passive voice, and the nominalisations.

Next time you read a plain language tips list and you come across ‘use pronouns’, choose those pronouns carefully. Don’t say I didn’t accordingly inform you thereof.