On one side of the fence we have customers, some of whom know nothing about insurance and just want a simple, efficient online journey. On the other side of the fence we have underwriters and regulatory teams — people well-versed in insurance and who live and breathe our industry terminology.

As content designers, it’s our job to create content that’s easily understood and digested by our customers, but also communicates what the business needs it to. Sometimes this means having some challenging conversations and presenting compelling evidence from user-testing. At other times it’s much easier to suggest improvements. Here are some of the principles my team use to keep our content as accessible as possible.

Minimal copy

Research by Nielsen estimates web users take in no more than 28% of copy on a web page so we aim to keep copy to the minimum. Getting a customer through a task as efficiently possible means only showing the customer precisely what they need to know to get to the next step. We can avoid overwhelming a web user with techniques such as progressive disclosure (revealing information bit by bit, as and when it’s relevant), keeping to bite-size chunks of (easy to read) copy, or using visuals instead of words.

Shorter sentences

Keeping sentences under 25 words means they’re much easier to read. Anne Wylie stated in her research for GDS that when your sentences creep above 20 words, comprehension drops dramatically. When you get to over 40 words they become almost impossible to read easily. Writers often advise varying sentence length to help the content flow better and read more naturally. So when writing we try to ensure our content flows, but is also as succinct as it can possibly be.

Using natural language

You wouldn’t yell ‘NAME!’ at someone if you were asking their name, so why is there a tendency to do this on web forms? ‘Can you tell me your name?’ or ‘What’s your name?’ is much more friendly and conversational. Little conversational words such as ‘Thank you,’ or ‘That’s great!’ can also help to humanise copy in a transactional journey and keep the tone engaging. Engaging a customer is vital if we want them to take in what we’re telling them about the product they’re buying.

Writing in Plain English

In Write to the Point, Sam Leith describes Plain English as ‘The simplest language that the widest possible segment of your intended audience will understand.’

This means avoiding jargon and also avoiding using the formal version of a word when the informal one will do just as nicely. For example, why use ‘Validate’ when you can use ‘Check’, and why use ‘Proceed’ when you could just say ‘Next’?

Insurance has a lot of jargon, which can baffle customers at the point of application, and beyond. If I said ‘your Sum Insured, compulsory excess, and personal possessions’, would you know what I meant? What if I said ‘your amount of cover, the minimum amount you’ll pay if you claimed, and the things you take out of your home with you’? Well then you might have a better idea. It may take more words to say that, but it makes much more sense to a customer. We try to explain things in basic terms.

There are more and more companies campaigning for Plain English, now they’re realising the importance of accessibility. Over 8% of the population don’t have English as their first language and 5.1 million adults in England lack basic literacy skills.

Collaboration is key

In financial services the clarity of the message we’re conveying to customers is crucial. Our customers aren’t buying a piece of paper, they’re buying a claims experience. And if they aren’t covered for something they thought they were, it’s normally because they didn’t understand what they signed up for at the time of purchase. It’s our responsibility to make sure they understand exactly what they’re buying.

We take product, underwriting and legal teams along to usability testing where possible so they can see first-hand whether users stumble upon certain words or phrases. That means the changes we make to improve understanding can be retested — until we’re as close as we can be to having something that’s clear, and not just to insurance experts!

The content we create is often based on wording provided by product, marketing or underwriting teams who haven’t considered accessibility and readability. As content specialists it’s our job to ensure those creating products and key messaging have a digital-first mind-set and understand these principles too. This will only happen if we take them on the digital journey with us…and collaborate wherever possible.