How can you be clear? Ask an 11-year-old

Words by Suzanne Worthington

Are you already testing your documents to check their ‘reading age’? Well, one company is taking it a step further.

I spotted this piece in the Chartered Insurance Institute’s Journal, about a focus group set up by Covéa Insurance.

They ran a real-life reading age test

Covéa wanted to find out what was tricky to understand in their policy wording. (So they’re already a step ahead in trying to make their wording clearer.) But they did something extra-clever: their focus group participants were all between 11 and 13 years old.

That may sound odd, but their rationale makes sense. If, as the Covéa study quotes, 16 per cent (5.2 million) adults in England have the literacy level of, or below, an 11-year-old – why not just ask 11-year-olds?  

Turns out kids don’t like over-complicated documents either

You can only see the Journal online if you’re a subscriber, so here’s what they found.

1. The children were confused about the meaning of words like ‘premium’, ‘excess’ and ‘write-off’.

2. They found it much easier to understand concepts when the researchers used simple words to help them imagine something happening. For example, if you tipped your home upside down and shook it, the stuff that falls out is the ‘contents’. (Neat.)

3. They found information easier to understand when it was in bullet points, tables or graphics. Just like grown-ups, then.

Let’s write off unclear wording

Policy wording, terms and conditions, contracts. If a lawyer can show that a document wasn’t clear enough for a normal reader then the document won’t stand up in court (even if people signed it to say they agree).

Too often, policy writers and lawyers assume too much of their readers. So ask a real person if they understand your wording. Or, better yet, follow Covéa’s lead – ask an 11-year-old.

 

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