Warranties: How to Write Simply

The second principle for making your warranty easy to read is to write simply.

To write simply, keep your sentences short. Long sentences can be tedious and hard to read. If you sentences tend to be longer than about 25 words, on the average, you should consider shortening them. The idea is to avoid long, complex sentences such as this:

If any part sold and installed new by us becomes defective during the warranty period or if faulty workmanship has occurred, and the vehicle is brought to our shop during our regular business hours, no including Saturday, we will, at our option, with ought charge, either repair the faulty workmanship or defective part, or replace it with another part, within a reasonable period of time, which shall not exceed 30 days. (One sentence, 70 words).

This sentence could be improved by breaking it up into several shorter sentences:

If any part that we have installed in your car becomes defective during the warranty period, or if our workmanship was faulty, bring the car to our shop during our regular business hours. (Our regular business hours do not include Saturdays.) We will repair any faulty workmanship, and either repair or replace any defective part, at our option. We will do so without any charge to you. We will complete this work in a reasonable time, but, in any case, within 30 days or less. (5 sentences, average 17 words.)

On the other hand, turning everything into 10-word "Dick-and-Jane" style sentences may be insulting to your readers. Also, be careful not to break long sentences into sentence fragments, unless you are writing a list or a chart. Fragments are often harder to understand than full sentences, especially when they are part of a paragraph. For example:

Only manufacturing defects covered by warranty; abuse, misuse, and improper installation excluded. Service obtainable through ZYX Corp. or ZYX dealers. Customer responsibility -- maintaining model 86 according to owners' manual.

Sometimes a sentence is long and confusing because it has extra phrases in the middle. For example, the writer of the following sentence should have put the information in parentheses into a separate sentence:

All warranty repairs must be performed at an approved XYZ warranty station (a partial listing of such warranty stations is included in a separate document enclosed herewith, but such listing is subject to changed without notice so purchaser should also check a local telephone directory) or, if so requested by purchaser in writing, as XYZ may otherwise direct in writing.

The writer could improve this section by breaking it up into several sentences like this:

To obtain warranty repairs, you must return the product to an approved XYZ warranty station. If you wish to make other arrangements for repairs, notify us in writing. We will let you know, in writing, how to proceed. We have enclosed a list of warranty stations with your warranty, but changes may occur without notice and your list may not be up to date. You should, therefore, also check a local telephone directory.

To write simply, list related items. Sometimes lists are more effective than text. But do not use lists to the exclusion of anything else; too many are tedious to read. If the lists are fairly short, you can set them off with bullets. If there is a sequential relationship among the items in the list, you may want to number them. Here is a section of a warranty that would have been improved by using a list:

The warranty does not cover equipment which has been damaged due to accident, misuse, abuse, fire, flood, "Acts of God," or other contingencies beyond the control of XYZ; use of incorrect line voltages; use of incorrect fuses; improper or insufficient ventilation; failure to follow XYZ's operating instructions; or improper or unauthorized repair.

Here is how the section could be rewritten to incorporate a list:

The warranty does not cover equipment which has been damaged due to misuse, abuse, or accident such as:

  • use of incorrect line voltages;
  • use of incorrect fuses;
  • improper or insufficient ventilation;
  • failure to follow the operating instructions that are provided by XYZ Company;
  • improper or unauthorized repair; or
  • fire, flood, "acts of God," or other contingencies beyond the control of XYZ Company.

If you use lists, keep the items in the list parallel. Use the same grammatical construction throughout. Here is an example of a list which is confusing because it is not parallel in structure:

Exclusions or Limitations:

  1. Brakes. Brake linings will not be replaced if there is 1/3 or more of the lining left.
  2. This warranty does not apply to any auto where mechanical breakdown shows driver abuse.
  3. This warranty does not cover normal maintenance items.
  4. Excessive oil consumption means using over 2-1/2 quarts of oil per 1000 miles.
  5. Valves -- XYZ will grind valves only if there is a variance in compression of 50 pounds.

This list could be improved by putting all these items in parallel structure. For example:

What this Warranty Does and Does Not Cover

This warranty does not cover:

  1. Brake linings, if 1/3 or more of the lining is left.
  2. Mechanical breakdown brought on by driver abuse.
  3. Normal maintenance items.

This warranty covers:

  1. Defective valves (A variance in compression of 50 lbs.)
  2. Excessive oil consumption (more than 2-1/2 quarts of oil per 1000 miles).

Do not interrupt a list by inserting sentences in the middle. They break the reader's concentration and leave the rest of the list unconnected to its introduction. For example:

This Warranty Does Not Cover:

  1. Any appliance, including but not limited to, range and oven, refrigerator, dishwasher, furnace, washer, dryer, and garbage disposal. Appliances are usually covered by warranties from the manufacturers who made them. These warranties are included in the mobile home owner's packet, with the owner's manual, or on the appliance itself.
  2. Tires.
  3. Deterioration from wear or exposure.
  4. Any defect caused by abuse, misuse, neglect, carelessness, or accident.
  5. Any defect caused by alteration or modification of the home.
  6. Any defect which would not have occurred if instructions in the owner's manual had been followed.

The first item in this section of the warranty should consist of only the first sentence. The rest of the text in the first item belongs elsewhere in the warranty (perhaps in a separate section entitled "Warranty Coverage for Appliances").