As an editor, I tend to be pretty picky about words (just ask my kids every time they use "like" as a verb instead of "said." And don't even get me started on the word "utilize.") More than once, I've wished someone would write a "Say This, Not That!" guide for benefits professionals and providers.

So I was happy to read Kathleen Koster's story on page 26 about translating employee benefits into plain English. It grew out of a slide show in which we asked readers to comment on their benefits communication pet peeves. As Kathleen points out in this month's article, many of you are so well-versed in the lingo (and that's a good thing) that it's easy to forget that not everyone's going to immediately understand common benefits and retirement terms.

More than half of employees surveyed recently by State Street Global Advisors, for example, don't know what target-date fund is. Kristi Mitchem, State Street's senior managing director and head of global defined contribution, told me that even words like "bond" and "fund" were not well-understood by the employees it surveyed.

That's not to say there aren't organizations out there doing a great job communicating benefits. In the Sept. 1 issue, we profiled four such companies - winners of our annual i-COMM awards, which recognize the best internal communication programs. And providers are getting on board, too. Several insurers - Aetna, UnitedHealthcare, Sun Life Financial, Unum and WellPoint - were recognized earlier this year by the Center for Plain Language, which honors the best in clear communication and plain language with its annual ClearMark Awards.

Interestingly, the Center also issued a report card for federal agencies, which grades them on how well they're complying with the Plain Writing Act of 2010. While the Department of Labor scored a solid B for how well it's following the act's requirements, it got a big fat F for how well it's following the spirit of the law.

We can aim for higher marks with our benefits communication. So while I hate to add to your homework, I'm going to make a request. Please conduct a jargon audit. Ask this of your providers as well. Watch for terms that might be off-putting and cause your audience to tune out. Don't assume your readers understand what a deductible is or what an index fund is. And if you must use jargon, include a glossary.

You might notice a new name in our pages this month. I'm pleased to welcome Associate Editor Tristan Lejeune to our team. He's a solid writer, and I'm confident he'll get up to speed on the intricacies of the benefits world in no time. Keep him in mind, too, when you're translating those benefits terms into plain English.

Send letters, queries and story ideas to andrea.davis@sourcemedia.com.

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