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Mini-Quiz: Use Plain Language

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Do your e-mails sound like they were written by the same person who writes tax forms? They shouldn’t. Your customer service e-mails should be written in plain, easy-to-understand language.

Bureaucratic or “inflated” language often creeps into customer service e-mails. Some people use inflated language because they think it is more formal, or even better English. But inflated language often makes something simple sound complex.

Here’s a response from a customer service agent to an inquiry from a student who wants to pay for a college transcript with a check. The agent responds using bureaucratic and inflated language. Circle the words or phrases that create the inflated tone. Then revise the response by substituting plain language for inflated language. Compare your revisions with ours. [link to answer sheet].

    To: John@umd.edu
    From: Registrar
    Subject: Transcript payment

    Dear John,
    We acknowledge receipt of your inquiry with regard to paying for a transcript by check. Please be advised that if you do not have a credit card, you cannot request a transcript using our online service. You can pay by check, but you must then request and complete a paper transcript request form. Please call 800-338-8787 and ask customer service to mail you the form. You must include a check (or money order) for the full amount due when you send back your completed request form. Credit card payment results in faster processing. In the event that you fail to enclose payment, we cannot process your request.

    Amelia
    Registrar’s Office, University of Maryland

ANSWERS to Mini-Quiz: Use Plain Language

The words or expressions in bold type contribute to the e-mail’s inflated tone. We’ve written plain language substitutes in parenthesis next to the words they replace and crossed out unnecessary phrases. Did you find all of these words and phrases? You may have substituted different expressions for the inflated language.

Any wrong answers? Chapter 4 – Write with a Polite, Positive, and Personal in Clear, Correct, Concise E-Mail: A Writing Workbook for Customer Service Agents provides guidance on writing “plain language” e-mail…

    To: John@umd.edu
    From: Registrar
    Subject: Transcript

    Dear John,

    We acknowledge receipt of [received] your inquiry with regard to [about] paying for a transcript by check. [If] you do not have a credit card, you cannot request a transcript using our online service. You can pay by check, but you must then request and complete a paper transcript request form. Please call 800-338-8787 and ask customer service to mail you the form. You must [Please] include a check (or money order) for the full amount when you send back your completed request form. Credit card payment results in faster processing. In the event that you fail to [If you do not] enclose payment, we cannot process your request.

    Amelia
    Registrar’s Office, University of Maryland

From Clear, Correct, Concise E-Mail: A Writing Workbook for Customer Service Agents by Marilynne Rudick and Leslie O’Flahavan, E-WRITE

Marilynne Rudick and Leslie O’Flahavan are partners in E-WRITE — http://www.ewriteonline.com, a training and consulting company in the Washington, D.C. area that specializes in online writing. Rudick and O’Flahavan are authors of the book Clear, Correct, Concise E-Mail: A Writing Workbook for Customer Service Agents.

Marilynne Rudick and Leslie O’Flahavan Answer Online Writing Questions: Click Here For Free Answers

Mini-Quiz: Use Plain Language
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