Government agencies and institutions aren’t generally known for their crystal clear communications. However, we recently came across a page on the United States Postal Service site that made us want to slow clap at our desks. Check out this refreshingly clear and conversational explanation of what to do if a company sends you an unsolicited gift in the mail:

USPS Unsolicited Merch






Can’t read the small print? Here’s the copy:

A company sends you a gift in the mail–a tie, a good luck charm, or a key chain. You didn’t order the gift. What do you do? Many people will feel guilty and pay for the gift. But you don’t have to. What you do with the merchandise is entirely up to you.

  • If you have not opened the package, mark it “Return to Sender.” The Postal Service will send it back at no charge to you.
  • If you open the package and don’t like what you find, throw it away.
  • If you open the package and like what you find, keep it–free. This is a rare instance where “finders, keepers” applies unconditionally.

Whatever you do, don’t pay for it–and don’t get conned if the sender follows up with a phone call or visit. By law, unsolicited merchandise is yours to keep.

So what’s to like about this explanation, specifically?

  • First of all, the note addresses you directly. It doesn’t talk about what “recipients of a gift” need to do. It talks about what “you” need to do. Being addressed as “you” makes us perk up and listen.
  • The writer of this note has obviously put herself in the shoes of the people who’d seek out this page and anticipated their likely anxieties about the situation. She acknowledges how you might feel (guilty, confused) and what you might be tempted to do (pay for the thing sent to you). She’s not just relaying protocol passed over from a manual, she’s conveying advice that takes human behavior into account. (See why this is important.)
  • The language is clear, colorful (but not too much so) and conversational. The writer isn’t afraid to use colloquial phrases like “finders keepers” and words like “conned.” Using language like this not only gives the description personality, it makes the reader feel like she’s listening to a real, human expert who’s dishing out the straight stuff. It’s reassuring, in other words.
  • The explanation is easy on the eyes. A short intro paragraph. Three easy-to-scan bullets. A final short paragraph. Lots of white space. What’s not to like?

Anyway…kudos to you, USPS info page for exceeding our expectations! You, friend, are some damn good communication.

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