How to Write Terms and Conditions

How many of us understand the terms and conditions in documents? 

The clarity in legal documents can be improved by:  

1. Using pronouns, for example: I, we, you.
2. Removing ‘doublets’, for example: “rules and regulations” or “accepts and agrees”.
3. Removing extra words.
4. Using shorter sentences.
5. Using vertical lists.  

The following paragraph is from the terms and conditions of a South African telecommunication company. Is it in plain language? Do you understand it? 

“The subscriber accepts and agrees that these terms and conditions will become binding on it once on the Commencement Date, that is, once the Company has processed the Application Form and agreed to provide the Subscriber with the selected Mobile Service and the Selected Mobile Goods., which is known as the Commencement Date. In other words the agreement will commence on the Commencement Date.” 

We made some changes using plain language principles. Do you understand this version? 

You agree to these terms and conditions. You will be bound to these terms and conditions from the Commencement Date. The Commencement Date will start when we have:

1. processed your application form; and
2. agreed to provide you with the goods and services you have selected. 

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By Michele van Eck, Writers Write Consultant 

Michele has a BComm in business management and law, as well as an LLB and an LLM. With specialized qualifications in corporate and contractual law, Michele writes for De Rebus and has co-authored articles for TSAR (a journal for South African law). 

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