Updated July 10, 2020: 

Website owners must know how to write terms and conditions that provide them with legal protection. Terms and conditions include statements and rules that users of your site must agree to follow. Writing the terms of use can be challenging if you're unfamiliar with legal jargon. In addition, many people never read this small print. However, any time you are providing a service to individuals or businesses, it's important that they accept clearly established terms and conditions. It's important to understand the types of terms and conditions that apply to your situation as well as where and how users will access this document.

Preparing to Write Terms and Conditions

First, it's important to understand if your site needs terms and conditions. In most cases, this document is required if you offer a service to many people that is available to the public, such as a website or mobile app. Consulting and employment relationships typically require an individual contract rather than terms of service. Common reasons for establishing terms and conditions include:

  • Preventing user misunderstanding or confusion.
  • Preventing abuse or misuse of your service.
  • Establishing consequences for abuse or misuse.
  • Establishing ownership of your content and preventing theft.
  • Limiting your personal liability for errors.

Terms and conditions should include provisions tailored to your specific situation. Common examples include:

  • Privacy policy if you are collecting names, addresses, credit card information, or other personal data from your users. This should detail how this data is used, stored, and shared.
  • Rules of user accounts and subscriptions, including circumstances that would result in the termination of these accounts

You'll also need to decide where and how customers will access your terms and conditions. The answer to this question informs how the document will be written. It should ideally be placed in an easily accessible location. If you opt for a pop-up message the first time users access your site, the title and opening should be clear and encourage users to read further. You may want to have users check a box that confirms they have read and accepted the terms and conditions of the site.

Writing Terms and Conditions

The first paragraph of your terms and conditions should be the acceptance and terms clause, which indicates that the use of your service indicates acceptance of its terms. This should be in large, bold font and ask the user to discontinue using the site if he or she does not agree with the terms and conditions.

Next, include a privacy statement if you plan to collect personal user information. This should be detailed and define what information is collected, how it will be protected, how it will be used, and when, if ever, it will be shared with others.

Provide a provision that protects your liability by indicating that the information provided is for informational purposes only and that you will not be liable for its availability, accuracy, or usefulness.

If your service includes intellectual property (IP) that is visible to your users, you should include an ownership clause that protects your IP assets. This can include but is not limited to designs, logos, and content.

If your website hosts ads, you must disclose relationships with advertisers and whether you are paid for these ads. If you are not paid, a brief statement about your advertising policy will suffice.

If users pay for your service, you should include a payment policy in your terms of service that indicates acceptable payment methods, the procedure for processing payments, and whether and how returns and refunds are accepted. If goods are shipped to users, that information should be included here as well. Be sure to indicate that if you use a third-party delivery service, you are not responsible for the goods once they are in the hands of that service.

A termination clause should be included that indicates the circumstances under which user accounts will be terminated for abuse.

You should also indicate how your users will be notified of changes to the terms, conditions, privacy policy, and other clauses included therein. For example, you can post that the policy has changed within 30 days of the changes and require your audience to be responsible for reading the associated changes.

If you need help with writing the terms and conditions for your website, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.