This blog shares some of our thoughts about plain language, and the latest discussions about plain English and clear design in New Zealand, and around the world.

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05 November 2012

Parking fines are always annoying — but the letter didn’t help

The tone of the letter I received from the rental car company telling me of my ‘Parking infringement’ didn’t help. They sent a standard letter that was written some time ago, maybe years ago.
Upon a search of our records, we have determined that you were renting the vehicle at the time the infringement was incurred. Please find enclosed a copy of your rental agreement, the terms and conditions of your hire, and the infringement for your reference.
I’m going to Christchurch in two weeks, and I’ll rent a car from someone else. Once standard letters are written, they are not OK for all time. Reviewing and updating the tone and the language of standard letters is an important part of managing client relationships. The rental car company needs to review and rewrite this one in contemporary, everyday language.

It’s extra annoying that the ‘infringement was incurred’ in Wellington, while I was renting in Auckland. By the time I found out there’d been a mix-up and the parking fine wasn’t mine, the rental car company had already debited my credit card ‘for the considerable paperwork involved in transferring an infringement, under the terms and conditions of your rental agreement (enclosed), a $58.49 (incl. GST and credit card surcharge) administration fee payable to … for processing each infringement. We noticed you had nominated a credit card for further charges and have therefore processed the charge accordingly. A receipt is enclosed.’

‘Kind regards’ at the end didn’t quite fit.

Here are some ways of thinking about tone when you write.
  • Tone is the impression the writer makes on the reader.
  • Tone is about considering how the reader will feel.
  • Tone is a matter of attitude: your choice of words, your sentence structure, and your content combine to display your attitude to your subject and your reader.
  • Tone will win you customers, or lose you business.
By Rosemary Knight


  1. In a similar vein, Robert Hempsall has drawn our attention to these notices.