5 Steps to Writing Effectively
You’ve got a big problem. You provide lots of documents to your clients and customers, but the information in the documents is very complex, and hard to understand. You know that most of your clients and customers don’t read the documents.
This could cause some big headaches down the road. Your clients and customers might claim not to have received critical information, if that information was buried in a big, ugly, confusing document somewhere.
Now there is a more immediate issue. In the wake of the financial scandals of recent years, the government is pressuring all financial companies to write their documents in plain English. The documents need to be clear enough for everyone to understand them.
- Figure out where you’re at: Have some non-experts read through the documentation. Ask them a few key questions to determine whether or not the documents are easy to understand. Your current clients and customers can give you great feedback, but even a non-subject matter expert in your office can usually point you in the right direction. Based on the results of these tests, you will know what kind of shape your documents are in, and which parts need the most help.
- Determine where you want to be: You can use the federal government’s regulations for writing in plain English as a starting point. Ultimately, you will need to figure out what exactly is the business-critical information that you’re trying to communicate, and what you want your clients to do with that information.
- Allocate resources: Do you have a trained writer on staff? Are they familiar with the principles behind the Plain Language initiative? If so, this may be a perfect project for them. If you do not have the writing resource you need on staff, locate a writer who is an expert at communicating financial information. Here’s a hint: Have several writers or writing companies rewrite a very small section of your documentation. Then pick the rewrite that is clearest (assuming a fair price).
- Revamp the documents as needed: With the purpose of the documentation effort firmly in mind, and knowledge of the specific information you are trying to communicate, the writer should not have any big problems with rewriting your documents in plain English.
- Follow up: Revisit the documents on a regular basis to make sure they still contain the correct information.
By completing these five steps, you will not just satisfy governmental mandates for financial companies to write in plain English. You will be providing your clients with written information they can easily understand. This will help them use your services better, and prevent miscommunications down the road.
Daniel Maddux, Owner, Elite Documentation Incorporated.
Female hand signing contract via Shutterstock