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Legalese or clear English?

Legalese* is used a lot and is not what I call clear content or simple communication.

Legalese is usually both longer and more complicated than is necessary to communicate a message. Most people don’t read it in full because it is looks too boring and hard. And it isn’t truly necessary most of the time.

If you have terms or other important information to communicate with clients, by all means get a lawyer to review it for you to ensure you are saying the right things. However, make sure the information is presented clearly.

To help make it clear:

  • find a legal advisor who is happy to work with you for commercially sound content – at a minimum, get them to approve what is written meets the requirements (and no more) even if they would prefer to include a lot more
  • write a short and simple message and link off to a comprehensive list of legal terms elsewhere. The message alerts people that terms exist but keeps your main message clear – and most people really don’t need to know all those terms. I have used this strategy on product disclosure statements – we state the basic rules that apply to most people and list the finer terms elsewhere for unusual circumstances. The result is that people actually read those documents rather than letting them collect dust as they appear too hard.
  • use good formatting to make the content visually appealing – lots of small print, long sentences and numbered items in paragraph style is very off-putting

What do you think – do you read content that is obviously legalese? Do you find some of that small print information worth reading, if only presented in a clear way?

I can think of a few instances where a document has not answered a question so I have to skim through a lot of tiny terms to find the information. A shorter legal statement with important details or a well set out page of terms would be much easier to achieve the same goal.

* Legalese is the usually complex way lawyers write information to ensure all angles are covered and liabilities avoided.

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