Effective communications can make or break a business, and yet so often people get it wrong. Here are a few simple guidelines that can help you communicate effectively with customers and stakeholders, whether you’re writing an in-depth report, newsletter or marketing communications.
Before you even begin to write, make sure you are clear about what you want to say and how you want the reader to use the information. It sounds obvious, but this is the story, and if you don’t keep it front of mind, it’s easy to lose the plot.
Ask yourself who will be reading this and how much time they have. This will help you tailor your writing to their needs. Too much information can be as bad as too little for a time-poor reader. Include what they need to know and will find useful, but no more.
3. Tone of Voice
Be aware of how formal/informal your writing sounds. Does it reflect your organisation/subject matter, and will it meet your readers’ expectations? When it comes to effective communications, some businesses have a fully formed tone of voice that resonates with customers. If you’re not sure, a good rule of thumb is to avoid slang and industry jargon/buzzwords. The right tone of voice is probably somewhere between the two. Also avoid jokes, unless you are very sure of your readership. Read more about tone of voice.
To keep the reader engaged, try to use active and direct language. This means avoiding the passive tense. For example, don’t say: ‘An assessment of the site was conducted by us.’ Do say: ‘We assessed the site.’
The longer and more complicated your message, the clearer your writing needs to be. One way to help with this is to break up long sections of text into short chunks or paragraphs. A paragraph should cover just one idea.
Another way to break up longer text in effective communications is to use headings and subheadings to show what each section includes. This helps the reader absorb information more easily as they can see what’s coming.
It’s easy to let meaningless phrases slip into your writing, but they slow down the reader and are subliminally boring. Try getting rid of ‘in order to’ (use ‘to’), ‘in fact’, ‘going forward’, ‘in my opinion’, ‘interestingly’, and so on, and see how much better it sounds.
Short for ‘Keep it simple, Stupid!’ A simple word has more power on the page than a complex or bureaucratic one. Look out for these and use the simpler option whenever you can: assistance/help, additional/extra, beneficial/helpful, optimum/best, evaluate/test or measure, indicate/suggest, require/need, etc.
Good writing flows but has enough variation to hold the reader’s attention. You can use a mixture of longer and shorter sentences to help achieve this. It’s easy to do.
If time allows, give your writing time to settle, ideally overnight. Then come back and read it through once more to check for sense and tone (and spelling) before you send it out into the world.
And remember, if you have a communications task that’s just too big, too urgent or too complex for your people to deal with, you can always call on the advice and help of an expert team.