Thursday, September 9, 2010

How to improve writing (no. 29)

From a form for setting up automatic payments:

By signing below, you authorize Verizon Wireless to electronically debit your bank account each month for the total balance due on your account. The check you send will be used to setup Automatic Payment. You will be notified each month of the date and amount of the debit 10 days in advance of the payment. I understand and accept these terms. This agreement does not alter the terms of your existing Customer Agreement. I agree that Verizon Wireless is not liable for erroneous bill statements or incorrect debits to my account. To withdraw your authorization you must call Verizon Wireless. Check with your bank for any charges.
This passage is a mess, in ways both small and large.

Small: setup should be two words. And it’s the information on the check that will be used in setting up automatic payments.

Large: the sentences are a jumble, and there’s that bewildering shift from you to I (and to you to I to you again). I want to ask: Who’s responsible for this shift? Whoever wrote these sentences needs to cut this shift out. I’m tired of this shift. I really am.

An improved version:
By signing below, you authorize Verizon Wireless to electronically debit your bank account each month for the total balance due on your Verizon account. The information on your check will be used to set up automatic payments. You will be notified each month of the date and amount of the debit 10 days in advance of the payment. To end automatic payments, you must call Verizon Wireless. Check with your bank for any charges.

Verizon Wireless is not liable for erroneous bill statements or incorrect debits to your account.

Your signature below means that you understand and accept these terms. This agreement does not alter the terms of your existing Customer Agreement.
I’ve corrected the problems with setup and the missing information, added Verizon (to distinguish Verizon account from bank account) and a comma, and changed “withdraw your authorization” to “end automatic payments.” And I’ve dropped the capitals from Automatic Payment. (Note that bank account and payment are already fine without caps.) Customer Agreement probably needs its capitals for legal reasons.

More importantly, I’ve reorganized the jumble of sentences into three paragraphs: an explanation of how automatic payments work; a disclaimer; and “Yes, I get it,” followed by the relevant disclaimer.

What follows the above passage is one more sentence in need of repair: “Sign name in box below, as shown on the bill and date.”

If anyone from Verizon happens to be visiting: this work is licensed under a Creative Commons 3.0 License. No commercial use without my permission.

[This post is no. 29 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

Related reading
All How to improve writing posts (via Delicious)

comments: 6

Anonymous said...

You assume that the writer wanted to be understood clearly. I think the opposite is true. These things are written that way intentionally. It gives the lawyers something to quibble over and it discourages actual users from reading the contract.

Michael Leddy said...

The more I look at this passage, the more I suspect it’s the result of several paragraphs being squished into one. Here at least, I see thoughtlessness rather than obfuscation.

Rachel said...

Great changes.

Other Elaine said...

Although he toils from sun to sun,
A writer's work is never done.

Michael Leddy said...

Thank you, Rachel!

Michael Leddy said...

Never done, indeed, which is part of what makes writing online so attractive. Tweak, tweak.