Writing Readable Warranties

Do you offer warranties on your products? This guide can help you cut through the legal-ese and meet your legal obligation to write warranties buyers can understand.

Introduction

In 1975, Congress enacted the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. One of the goals of the Act is to encourage businesspersons like you to write your warranties in "simple and readily understood" language. We, the Federal Trade Commission staff, receive many requests for guidance in achieving this goal. This manual is designed to give you achieving this goal. This manual is designed to help you achieve your goals by giving you practical suggestions to
for writing a simple and easy-to-understand warranty.

A readable warranty serves the following purposes in addition to meeting the goal of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act:

  • A well-written warranty functions more effectively than a poorly written one as a legal instrument to define the rights and obligations of your customers and your company.
  • An easy-to-understand warranty can be an effective selling tool. It can create confidence in your product and your company. It can simplify for consumers the task of comparing warranties offered on similar products and can be one of the factors that persuades customers to purchase your product.
  • A simple, straightforward warranty will effectively tell customers what steps to take if a problem arises. This can aid both you and your customers in resolving problems quickly and efficiently and help to reduce consumer complaints.

This manual will help you write your warranty after you decide what warranty coverage to offer.

The manual does not recommend that you offer any particular level or type of warranty coverage.

Except for certain federal and state requirements, the extent of written warranty coverage that you offer -- and even whether to offer a written warranty -- is a decision for you to make based upon your company's individual situation.

The manual is not an outline of federal or state warranty law. While it necessarily touches on some aspects of federal warranty law, there are areas of federal and state warranty law which it does not address. Therefore, a cautionary note is in order. Before distributing your warranty, be sure to consult with a lawyer to make sure your warranty complies with all the requirements of federal and state law.

The manual uses examples of good and poor warranties throughout. They are merely illustrative.

The names of the companies in these examples are fictitious; any resemblance between them and the names of actual companies is completely coincidental.

We hope this manual will simplify your task as a warranty writer. The FTC's Warranty Readability staff is available to offer advice and further information.

Organizing a Written Warranty

What Your Warranty Should Include

By law, a written warranty must contain certain basic information about its coverage. Your warranty must include information about:

  • what parts of the product or what types of problems the warranty covers (and, if necessary for clarity, what parts or problems it does not cover);
  • what the period of coverage is;
  • what you will do to correct problems (and, if necessary for clarity, what you will not do);
  • how the customer can get warranty service; and
  • how state law may affect certain provisions of the warranty

In addition, if there are limitations or conditions on the warranty coverage you provide, you must include a statement of them in your warranty. You may want to consider what conditions and limitations you really need and eliminate those that are unnecessary.

If your warranty contains certain particular conditions or restrictions, you must include additional information.

Finally, the law requires that your warranty include a title that indicates whether it is "full" or "limited." What these terms mean and how to use them in titling your warranty are explained in detail in this manual.

Of course, you should consult your lawyer to ensure that your warranty meets all the requirements of both federal and state warranty law.

Include Extra Detail in a Pro Rata Warranty

A special note is in order concerning what to include in a pro rata warranty. A pro rata warranty is one that provides for a refund or credit that decreases according to a set formula as the warranty period progresses or as the product is used. Because a pro rata warranty offers a remedy that is rather complicated, it should include certain detailed information so that customers can understand what the company will do if the product malfunctions. A pro rata warranty should include information that makes clear:

  • what formula the company will use to calculate how much the refund or the credit will be at any time during the period of coverage;
  • what the consumer will get -- either a credit, a refund, or a choice of a credit or a refund, whichever is the case;
  • that the only remedy is a credit toward an identical product, if this is the case; and
  • what price the company will use as a basis to calculate the refund or credit -- for example, the price the customer originally paid or the price at the time the product malfunctions, if different.

What Your Warranty Should Not Include

Promotional statements, instructions to service agents, and other extraneous material in a warranty may confuse customers about the purpose of the document. Include only necessary information in your warranty. A concise, straightforward warranty will promote your product better than a crowded document full of praise for your product.

If you feel that it is necessary to include promotional material about your product with your written warranty, keep it separate from the warranty. If possible, put it in a separate brochure. If you put promotional statements on the same page as your warranty, clearly set apart your warranty, for example, by placing a border around it. The customer should be able to separate at a glance the warranty from the promotional material.

How to Organize Your Warranty

A written warranty is a legal document in which you set out what you promise to do if something goes wrong with your product. Clear organization makes it easier for consumers to compare what you promise in your warranty with what others promise in their warranties. Only by comparing warranties on similar products can consumers decide which warranty offers the coverage that most closely meets their needs.

A written warranty is also a guide for customers to use to find out what to do when something goes wrong with the product. When this happens, customers understandably want to find answers to specific questions quickly and easily. The warranty document should be organized so that they can do this.

The following sections offer some practical suggestions for organizing your warranty so that it is clear and informative.

Use Headings

Headings make it easy to find information in a document. Research has show that most people prefer to read material that is broken into sections by headings rather than one solid block of text. Informative headings can help customers find the specific information that they are looking for quickly and easily.

We suggest using as the headings for your warranty the information required by the FTC's Rule on Disclosure of Written Consumer Product Warranty Terms and Conditions.These headings will help provide important information to consumers in a concise and non-repetitive manner.

The headings we recommend are:

  • What the Warranty Covers (and, if necessary for clarity, What it Does Not Cover);
  • What the Period of Coverage Is;
  • What We (the company) Will Do to Correct Problems (and, if necessary for clarity, What the Company Will Not Do);
  • How You (the customer) Can Get Service; and
  • How State Law Relates to the Warranty

You may need to use additional headings in your warranty if all the conditions and limitations cannot be dealt with adequately using only the recommended headings.

Regardless of which headings you use to organize your warranty, be sure the headings are specific and informative. You may, for example, want to use questions as headings because they reflect what consumers ask about warranty coverage. We do not recommend headings that consist of a single noun or a string of nouns. These are usually vague and general and do not give readers enough information to let them know what follows in the text. For example, the following headings, all of which come from one warranty, are not very useful or informative:

  • Parts Warranty
  • Extended Porcelain Finish Warranty
  • Warranty Service
  • Extended Warranty Service labor Allowance
  • Ownership
  • Warranty Conditions
  • Federal Regulatory Provisions
  • Purchaser's Responsibility
  • Purchase Registration
  • Model and Serial Numbers
  • Factory Assistance

Headings are clearer and more effective if they are written in parallel grammatical structure. For example, use all questions or all statements in headings but do not mix questions and statements.

Here are some examples of parallel, informative headings:

  • What Does This Warranty Cover?
  • What Does This Warranty Not Cover?
  • What is the Period of Coverage?
  • What Will We Do to Correct Problems?
  • What Will We Not Do?
  • How Do You Get Service?
  • What Must You Do to Keep the Warranty in Effect?
  • How Does State Law Relate to This Warranty?

Whatever structure you choose for your headings, be sure each heading is appropriate for the portion of text to which it refers. This heading, for example, is not appropriate for he text which follows.

Ownership

This appliance parts warranty remains in force for one year from the initial delivery of the appliance. The warranty continues in force for one year even if the first purchaser sells the appliance.

A more appropriate way to treat headings for this text would be:

Who is Covered?

This warranty covers the purchaser of this appliance and anyone else who owns it during the warranty period.

How Long Does the Coverage Last?

This warranty remains in force for one year from the date the dealer delivers the appliance.

Occasionally a piece of information may fall logically under more than one heading. Put each piece of information under the most appropriate heading and try not to repeat it elsewhere in the warranty. Repeating information makes the warranty longer and may confuse readers.

Numbers cannot take the place of informative headings. In fact, arbitrarily numbered paragraphs may be confusing. Consumers may infer a relationship among numbered paragraphs which does not exist. Here is an example of a warranty which inappropriately uses numbers as a substitute for headings:

  1. Flowco unconditionally and directly guarantees the faucet...
  2. Should any one of your Flowco faucets develop a leak or...
  3. We'll appreciate your prompt return of the faulty faucet...
  4. This guarantee covers only the operating mechanism...
  5. After many years of use, you may one day want to purchase a replacement for one of your Flowco faucets. They are available...
  6. The replacement of the operating mechanism of a Flowco faucet completely renews...

On the other hand, if you are listing a small number of related items or provisions, numbering the items may help consumers remember them. For example:

How to Get Service

Deliver the appliance, along with proof of the date of purchase, to any one of the following:

  1. The dealer from whom you bought the appliance;
  2. Any USA Co. distributor's service department; or
  3. Any USA Co. Authorized Service Center.
Normal Responsibilities of the Buyer
  1. Installing and using the appliance according to directions;
  2. Replacing light bulbs;
  3. Connecting the appliance properly to a power supply of sufficient voltage;
  4. Replacing blown fuses; and
  5. Repairing loose connections or defects in house wiring.

Use a Chart for a Multiple or Pro Rata Warranty.

Some warranties provide different coverage on some parts than on other parts or different coverage during one time period than during another. Warranties of this type are called "multiple" warranties.

A multiple warranty is by its very nature more complex and therefore more difficult to understand than a warranty with only one level of coverage. Using a chart is often the best way to make a multiple warranty clear.

In a multiple warranty, provisions which are common to all the portions of the warranty should appear in the document only once under the appropriate heading.

Charts may be useful in organizing pro rata warranties, although this is usually not necessary if the method of calculating the credit or refund is clearly explained in the text.

Titling a Written Warranty "Full" or "Limited"

The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act requires that every warranty on consumer products that cost more than $10 include a title which "clearly and conspicuously" indicates whether the warranty is "full" or "limited." (The Act calls these titles "designations.") The title provides consumers, at a glance, with a key to some of the important terms and conditions of a warranty.

The title "full warranty" is a shorthand message to consumers that the coverage meets certain standards for comprehensive warranty coverage set by Congress. By the same token, the title "limited warranty" alerts consumers that the coverage does not meet at least one of the standards which Congress set.

How to Determine Whether Your Warranty is "Full" or "Limited"

Determining whether your warranty is a "full" or "limited" warranty is not difficult. Basically, if  each of the following five statements is true about your warrant's terms and conditions, your warranty is a full one:

  1. You will provide warranty service to anyone who owns your product during the warranty period.
  2. You will provide warranty service free of any charge, including such costs as returning the product or removing or reinstalling the product when necessary.
  3. You will provide, at the consumer's choice, either a replacement or a full refund if you are unable, after a reasonable number of tries, to repair your product.
  4. You will provide warranty service without requiring that consumer return a warranty registration card.
  5. You will not limit the duration of implied warranties.

If any of these statements I not true, then your warranty is limited.

If the statements are true about the coverage on only some parts of your product, or if the statements are true about the coverage during only one part of the warranty period, then your warranty is a multiple warranty which part full and part limited. Special considerations apply to multiple warranties which are part full and part limited. These are discussed later in this manual.

How to Make the Title Useful to Your Customers

Remember that the purpose of the warranty title is to provide consumers with a quick way to evaluate warranty coverage. Make the title prominent and easy to understand by including only essential information and by setting it off from the text.

Include Only Essential Information.

What is essential varies according to whether the warranty is full, limited, or part full and part limited. In any case, avoid unnecessary words that clutter up the title and make it difficult for customers to take in the essential information quickly.

Titling a Full Warranty.

The title for a full warranty should include only:

  • the words "full" and "warranty"
  • a phrase that describes the period of coverage; and
  • a phrase that indicates what parts or problems the coverage includes.

If your full warranty does not cover all of the parts of your product or all types of defects, the title should inform consumers of that fact. Otherwise, the title may mislead consumers about the extent of the coverage. For example, if a company offers a full warranty on all parts of its water heater for a year, then the following title lets consumers know quickly what the warranty covers:

Full One-Year Warranty on the X-L Water Heater

However, if the full warranty covers only the glass tank liner, but not the heating element, this title does not let consumers know that the warranty contains significant restrictions. A better title for that warranty would indicate the restriction in coverage. For example:

Full One-Year Warranty on the Glass Liner of the X-L Water Heater

Keep the description of the parts or problems that the warranty covers as short and simple as possible. If you cannot state description briefly, use a summary phrase like "on certain parts only" and include a detailed statement of the limitations in the body of the warranty.

Titling a Limited Warranty.

The title for a limited warranty should include only the phrase "limited warranty." You should not include the duration of coverage in the title of a limited warranty. This can mislead consumers in to assuming that the word "limited" refers only to a limitation on the period of coverage. It is better to use just the phrase "limited warranty" and let consumers read about both the period of coverage and all restrictions on the coverage in the text.

Titling a Multiple Warranty.

In some multiple warranties, the coverage on some parts is full while the coverage on other parts is limited, or there is full coverage during one period and not during another. In such cases you can either title the entire warranty "limited," or you can use both titles in your warrant -- "full" for the full portion of the warranty and "limited" for the limited portion.

In titling the full portion of a multiple warranty that also contains a limited portion, use the guidelines for titling a full warranty as indicated above.

The title for the limited portion of a multiple warranty that is part full and part limited needs more than just the phrase "limited warranty." The title should make it easy for customers to understand the differences in coverage between the full and the limited portions of the warranty.

To do this, the title of the limited portion of such a warranty should indicate:

  • how the time period of the limited portion is related to the time period of the full portion; and
  • which parts or problems are within the coverage of the limited portion.

Titling a Pro Rata Warranty.

If your warranty is a pro rata warranty, you can simply title it "limited warranty." However, if your pro rata warranty includes an initial period of full coverage, you may want to title the full portion "full" and the remaining portion "limited."

Make the Title Prominent.

To be useful and to comply with the law, the title should be prominent. There are a number of ways to do this. Place the title at the head of your document. Include blank (white) space around the title to make it stand out. You should use a typesize for the title which larger than the typesize for the text. You should also use the same typesize, typeface, color, and layout for all the words in the title to assure that each word carries the same visual weight.

When your warranty needs more than one title, all of the titles can appear at the head of the warranty document. or each title can appear directly about the portion of the warranty to which it refers.

Writing Clearly and Simply

Organizing and titling your warranty properly will make it easier for customers to find the information they need. It also will create a favorable impression about your company and your product. The actual wording of your warranty is just as important. Customers will be discouraged from reading the warranty if they find the language complicated and its tone legalistic. A warranty should therefore be direct and easy to read.

These three general principles will help make your warranty easy to read:

  • use a personal writing style;
  • use simple language and structure; and
  • use clear terms.

The following pages explain each principle and present some practical guidelines to help you apply them.

How to Make Your Writing Style Personal

An impersonal style makes the writer sound anonymous or indifferent. A personal style allows your message to come through clearly. It always indicates who is doing the talking ("we" -- the company), who is being spoken to ("you" -- the customer), and who is responsible for doing what.

To make your writing style more personal, use personal pronouns.

For example, you can refer to the company as "we" and to the customer as "you." Many people do not understand the word "warrantor"; they are not sure to whom terms like "owner," "user," or "consumer refer. On the other hand, "you" and "we" are everyday words that establish a relationship familiar to everyone.

Here is an example of a section of a warranty which does not use personal pronouns:

If warrantee pays labor and transportation charges , warrantor will:

  1. During the first year of warrantee's ownership, repair, or replace, at warrantor's option, all glass parts, porcelain, enamel, and other finishes.

This could be greatly improved by using personal pronouns. For example:

If you pay the labor and transportation charges, we will:

  1. Repair or replace at our option, all glass parts, porcelain, enamel, and other finishes.

If you prefer, you can use one pronoun to refer to on or the other of the parties by a name, such as "the XYZ Company" or "the owner." However, be consistent in your use of pronouns. It is confusing, for example, to use "your" and "the owner" to refer to the same person.

To make your writing style more personal, use the active voice and avoid the passive voice. The active voice is the most direct way of expressing an idea. in an active sentence, someone performs and action. For example:

You must keep your receipt as proof of the date of sale.

Note that in this active sentence the "doer" who performs the action (in this case, "you") is mentioned before the verb ("must keep").

The passive voice, on the other hand, changes the focus of the sentence from the "doer" of the action to the object that is being acted upon. For example:

The receipt must be kept as proof of date of sale.

The passive voice is more difficult to understand than the active voice because the passive voice leaves out the "doer" of the action. For example, the sentence, "The appliance will be repaired" leaves out a very important piece of information: who is responsible for making repairs. If you write in the active voice, you give the company credit for what it will do.

Occasionally, the passive voice is appropriate, but only where you are speaking in general terms or when it does not matter who the "doer" of the action is. For example:

If the serial number has been altered, or defaced, we will not repair or replace this appliance.

However, because the passive voice can be unclear, question every passive sentence you use in a warranty. See if you can replace it with a sentence in the active voice. To make your writing style more personal, use verbs instead of nominalizations. Nominalizations are nouns that have been created from verbs. For example, the verb "replace" can be made into the noun "replacement"; the verb "remove" into the now "removal"; the verb "install" into the noun "installation." These noun forms of verbs (nominalizations) cannot stand alone but must be used with an essentially meaningless "filler" verb. Thus, to do the job that the verb "describe" does alone, you need a verb plus a nominalization, such as "give a description." Nominalizations are wordy. For example:

In the event of replacement with a reconditioned model...

Simple verb forms, in contrast, are clear and economical:

If we replace the (product) with a reconditioned model...

To make your writing style more personal, give examples.

Research shows that people better understand written material that refers to concrete situations. You can make your warranty clearer by providing concrete examples to illustrate the terms of the warranty. For example:

When You Must Pay for Labor

The only time a Superb dealer will charge a customer for labor is when the speakers are obviously being abused, e.g., when a customer brings back the same speakers three times in three weeks with burned-out woofers or tweeters.

Maintenance is the Owner's Responsibility

Cleaning and polishing, lubricating, and replacing filters, tuning the engine, and replacing worn brake and clutch linings are some of the normal maintenance services all cars require. See your maintenance schedule for full details.

How to Write Simply

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

Keep your sentences short

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").

How to Write Clearly

Clear warranties need simple words as well as short, logical sentences. It is not condescending to use everyday language and structure. Even sophisticated customers appreciate clear, simple language.

To be clear, you should avoid difficult words and unnecessary technical terms, and explain terms that may confuse your customers. You can often replace typical warranty terms with simpler words. For example:

Don't use:

  • as evidenced by (something)
  • commence
  • compensated
  • effectuate repairs
  • exclusions
  • extended
  • remediable
  • retain
  • secure (warranty service)
  • upon receipt of
  • warrantee

Do use:

  • which (something) shows
  • begin
  • paid, repaid
  • repair, make repairs, fix
  • what is not covered
  • given
  • can be fixed
  • keep
  • get (warranty service)
  • when (someone) receives
  • you or the owner

Technical words commonly used in your business can detract from the clarity of your warranty if their meaning is not clear to your customers. For example, this section of a warranty uses a technical term that may be unfamiliar to many customers:

What is Not Covered

This warranty does not cover conditions that result from scaling.

You should explain unfamiliar terms in language that your customers will understand. The previous warranty provision could be made clearer by including an explanation of "scaling," such as:

What is Not Covered

This warranty does not cover conditions that result from scaling (the buildup of foreign matter inside the tubing).

If you use a term that may be ambiguous, make sure you clarify it. For example, if you describe your warranty as a "lifetime warranty" and are referring to any life other than that of the buyer, be sure to include information in your warranty that makes your meaning clear. here is how to do this when you are referring to the life of a product:

How Long Does the Coverage Last?

Your new Whisper Muffler lifetime guarantee lasts as long as your car does -- even if you sell it or give it away!

If the coverage lasts only as long as the original purchaser owns the product, titling the warranty "full lifetime warranty" is contradictory and possibly misleading. Here is a better way to describe the duration of coverage in the title of such a warranty:

Full Warranty on the AlpinTrek Backpack For as Long as You Own It

To be clear, you should avoid legalistic terms and sentence structure. Most customers do not understand many legal terms. "Legalese" is intimidating, impersonal, and often just bad writing. In addition, many legal terms are archaic and are not appropriate to use in warranties for modern products. Some legal terms you should avoid are:

  • hereby
  • herein/therein
  • hereinabove
  • hereunder
  • incident to
  • such, said, same (meaning "the," "this," and "that")
  • thereto

Here are examples of "legalese" which have been rewritten using everyday language:

Legalese Everyday
... warrants to the first purchaser thereof certain specified components in the [product] as is more fully set out herein. ... warrants certain specific parts of the product described below. The warranty applies only to the person who first bought the product.
Damages which may inure to the buyer... Damages which the buyer has to pay for...
... XYZ Co. hereby warrants, subject to the conditions hereinbelow set forth... ... we warrant the product with the following conditions...

To be clear, you should explain any legal terms that you must use. Some legal terms cannot be changed. Examples are:

  • merchantability
  • express warranty
  • implied warranty
  • consequential damages
  • incidental damages

If you must use a legal term, you can put an explanation in parentheses. For example:

This warranty does not cover consequential damages (the cost of repairing or replacing other property which damaged when this appliance does not work properly).

The implied warranty of merchantability (an unwritten warranty that the product is fit for ordinary use) is limited to one year.

Or you can use examples. Rather than using the term "incidental damages," for instance, you can give specific examples of what that term includes, such as:

This warranty does not cover transportation to and from the dealer or manufacturer to get warranty service, loss of time, loss of use, towing charges, bus fare, car rentals, or other incidental damages.

Making Your Warranty Visually Clear and Attractive

Once you have organized your ideas, properly titled your warranty, and written the provisions in simple, easily understood language, you should think about making the warranty document visually clear and attractive. Good graphic design, which need not be expensive, can greatly enhance the readability of your warranty.

Visual clarity and attractiveness in a printed document involve a number of elements of graphic design, including:

  • typesize, typeface, and weight of type;
  • leading (blank space between lines);
  • line length;
  • margins;
  • white space;
  • color (of both the type and the paper);
  • capital letters; and
  • illustrations.

We will discuss each of these items in turn.

Typesize.

Typesize is one of the most important factors affecting the legibility of a warranty. The size of type is measured in "points." In general, anything less than 8-point type is "fine print" and difficult to read. We suggest using a 10-point type in your warranty because it makes for comfortable reading.

Typeface.

Another factor that affects the visual quality of your warranty is the typeface. Typefaces are divided into two classes: serif (those with small extensions on the letters) and sans-serif (those without extensions on the letters). Whether to use a serif or sans-serif typeface is largely a question of taste. Serif faces are slightly easier to read because the extensions on the letters draw the reader's eye along the line of print. Sans-serif type, however, looks more modern and can also be very readable, especially if the printer leaves a little extra space (leading) between the lines of print. Whichever typeface you select, choose on that is highly legible.

Once you choose a serif or sans-serif typeface, do not mix the two. Consistent style in your warranty includes keeping a consistent visual image.

Weight of the Type.

Type comes in several weights, from extra-light to extra-bold. The lightness or boldness of the letters can affect the legibility of your document. Light typeface is fainter and harder to read. Boldface, on the other hand, is not necessary for ordinary text but can be used for emphasis. You can use boldface for headings and for words and sentences you wish to emphasize.

Leading

Another important factor that affects the legibility of a printed text is leading -- the amount of space between the lines of print. use one to three points of leading with 10-point type. Too little leading can make the text look crowded. A little extra leading can sometimes dramatically improve the legibility of your text.

Line Length

The length of the lines of print also affects how easy printed materials are to read. It is difficult for the eye to move down the page form one line to the next without getting lost when the lines of print are too long. Research has shown that the optimum line length for reading ease is between 50 or 70 characters per line.

Capital Letters

Using all capital letters, a method commonly used for emphasis, actually makes the copy more difficult to read, especially if the technique is overused. Research has show that a block of text in all capitals is harder to read than the same block in mixed capitals and lower-case letters. When you have more than three or four words in all capitals, you lose the effect of emphasis.

You can use all capitals effectively for short headings and to emphasize individual words or phrases in the text. But if you want to emphasize more than a few words, you can use boldface, italics, colored type, or larger type.

Keep in mind the document designer's maxim: "If one device will do, don't use two." In other words one (or at most two) of these special emphasis techniques is sufficient.

Color

When you use color in a warranty document, let common sense be your guide. For example, yellow type is hard to read. Bright yellow background can be hard on the eyes. Blue print on light blue paper may not produce enough contrast for easy reading. Patterned paper may also reduce the contrast between paper and type.

Using color in your warranty is not necessarily expensive. One color, used sparingly for emphasis, can be relatively inexpensive and very effective. But use color carefully to achieve maximum impact; too many colors can be distracting to the reader.

Margins

Margins also affect the legibility of printed material. When both the right and left hand margins are straight, the margins are called "justified." In order to justify the type, the typesetter buts extra space between letters and words. In a poorly-typeset manuscript, this sometimes creates "rivers of white" that flow arbitrarily down the page and may be distracting. In contrast, ragged (uneven) right margins end wherever the last word in the line finishes when normal spacing is used. Research indicates that readers prefer ragged right margins to justified ones and that ragged margins may make the text more readable.

White Space

Proper use of white space can also add to the attractiveness and legibility of your warranty.

Generous margins and ample space between paragraphs can make the text more inviting and call attention to the message. In fact, white space can be so effective in attracting the reader's attention and getting your message across that you should always opt for white space in place of nonessential information.

Illustrations

Illustrations can add to the attractiveness and even the clarity of your warranty. A picture of the product on the front of the warranty can be useful to an owner who is trying to locate a particular warranty in a stack of other documents.

Illustrations can also help readers find information within a warranty and can highlight points you wish to emphasize.

Line drawings are often more useful than photographs, because they can eliminate irrelevant details that may be present in a photograph. If you want to highlight one part of a product or explain something about it (e.g., the picture tube of a TV set, the coils of a refrigerator, or the serial number on a furnace), a line drawing may be helpful.

Pictures should support the message, but should not replace headings or text. Do not clutter up the page with so many illustrations that you obscure the message.

Our suggestion about consistency of style in the warranty text holds for pictures as well. Do not mix different styles of illustrations.

Testing Your Warranty to Make Sure Your Customers Understand It

After you draft your warranty, you will want to test it to see if your customers will understand it. Tests do not have to be elaborate or expensive. A small, informal test with employees, friends, or actual shoppers can tell you whether your warranty is clear. Or you may choose to do a more expensive and reliable test on a representative sample of consumers.

Your test should determine whether your warranty will be easy to understand and use in real-life situations. To do this, you might use a test in which people are presented with hypothetical situations involving the product and are asked to figure out which warranty terms apply. Some of the questions you might ask include:

  1. How long does the warranty run?
  2. Are certain parts covered longer than others?
  3. What parts (or problems) are not covered?
  4. Let's say you buy this (product) secondhand when it is six months old. the day after you get it home, it stops working. Will the manufacturer fix it for free?
  5. If this (product) breaks and causes damage to other things in your home (your kitchen counter, walls, or floors), will the company pay for the damage?
  6. Where do you go to get the (product) repaired?

The value of this type of comprehension testing is that it enables you to find out what people do not understand. For example, if people are having trouble finding information, it may be that your headings are not clear or that the information is not organized logically under the headings. If people misinterpret a particular word or phrase, perhaps you need to use a simpler word or explain a technical or legal term. If people fail to understand some of their rights and obligations, perhaps the sentence structure is too difficult.

Whether you use a scientifically valid and reliable test or just a small, informal survey, testing the warranty will help you know how clear it is. With this kind of information, you can produce a better warranty.