Posts Tagged ‘writing’

How to Write an Effective Company Policy

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

Are you struggling to write your company’s policy? If so, here are a few ideas to get you started.

You can organize your policy as follows:

Purpose – Explain what the policy is about and why your employees should follow the policy. To come up with this information, ask yourself “What behavior am I trying to teach?” or “What behavior am I trying to change?” or “What behavior am I trying to stop?”. For example, you may have implemented your Dress Code policy to get your employees to wear proper business attire to project a more professional image of your company.

Scope – Indicate who should follow the policy. Your Dress Code policy may apply only to your Sales and Marketing staff who deal with your customers face to face.

Out of Scope – Indicate who the policy does not apply to. Your Dress Code policy may not apply to back office staff who don’t deal with customers.

Effective Date – Tell your employees when the policy comes into effect. If your policy is effective today, you can say effective immediately.

Responsibilities – Explain who is responsible for what. Ask yourself questions like “Who will make sure that everyone follows the policy?” or “Who will enforce it?” You can also explain the levels of enforcement such as a verbal warning for a first offence, written warning for a second offence, and demotion or dismissal for a third offence (depending on how serious the offence is).

Policy Statements – List all the regulations, requirements or the do’s and don’ts. This is the main part of your policy. It can be one to several pages, depending on how complex your policy is. For your Dress Code policy, you can list what is acceptable or unacceptable business attire.

Other Sections You Can Include

Background – Explain the history or events that led to the creation of your policy. Maybe you’re implementing a Dress Code policy because one of your biggest customers complained about your staff dressing unprofessionally.

Definitions – Spell out acronyms that are unique to your company, and explain ambiguous terms and concepts.

Distribution – Specify who gets a copy of the policy.

Contacts – Tell your employees who to contact for further information.

Review and Revision – Specify how often the policy is reviewed, who reviews it, and who authorizes the policy. You also can tell your employees that your company reserves the right to rescind or amend the policy at any time.

So that’s it in a nutshell. With these ideas in mind, writing a policy is not so bad. The key is to organize the information so that your employees can follow it easily.

What was your experience in writing your company’s policy? Please share them in the comments.

How to Write a Procedure That People Can Follow Easily

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

If you want your users to follow your procedure, you should make it as easy as following their favourite recipe.

The next time you’re cooking, take a look at the recipe. You’ll notice it has three parts:

  • List of ingredients – Tells you what you need to start the recipe
  • Steps – Explains step by step how to prepare the recipe
  • Number of servings – Tells you how many people you can serve

Your procedure can have three parts as well:

Before You Begin: Like the list of ingredients in the recipe, this part tells your users what they need before starting the procedure. Do they need prior knowledge before starting the procedure? Do they need certain materials? Or, do they need to do something to prepare?

Steps: This part tells your users what they need to do first, then second, and so on. Tell them what happens as they go along so that they know if did the right thing. For example, if you’re explaining how to use an application, you can show the windows that appear at critical steps so your users will know they’re in the right place.

Result: Like the number of servings, this part tells your users what to expect. If you tell your users what happens after they perform the procedure, they can check if the right thing happened.

Other Useful Parts You Can Include at the Beginning

Audience: You can tell your users who the procedure is written for. For example, if you indicate which procedures are for Level  1 Support, Level 2 Support and so on, it will save your staff time and frustration from following the wrong procedure.

Purpose: When you tell your users why they need to follow the procedure, it will make more sense to them. They will learn it more quickly and  make fewer mistakes.

But what if my procedure is complex and involves more than one role?

This question is easy to answer. You can have a role table that lists the steps for each role, and it will look something like this:

Role Action
1 Level 1 Support Get the following information from your customer: name, telephone number, workstation number and a description of the problem they are experiencing.
2 Level 2 Support Open the ticket from the Remedy application. If you resolve it, close the ticket. If not, send the ticket to Level 3 Support.
3 Level 3 Support Open the ticket from the Remedy application. If you resolve it, close the ticket. If not, send it to the Senior Developer.

Test Your Procedure

If you want to make sure that your users understand the procedure, have one or two users follow it in front of either you or someone else who understands it. Note where they make their mistakes and ask yourself questions such as: Were all the steps worded properly? Are any steps missing? Is it self-explanatory or clearly explained what happens after each step?

If the users who tested your procedures can follow it, chances are, the other users will be able to follow it too.

A Good Procedure is an Investment

Not all procedures are as easy as a recipe. In fact, some procedures are long and complex.

However, if you take the time to write good procedures for your staff, you will save time and money from training and support. And things will run much more smoothly because your staff will be more productive.

What are your thoughts? How can you tell if a procedure is good or bad? Please share them in the comments.

Active Voice Versus Passive Voice

Friday, October 31st, 2014

The difference between the active voice and passive voice is easy to understand.

In the active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action. The active voice answers the question “Who or what performed the action?”. Examples are: “John dropped the ball.” and “The dog barked at the cat.”

In the passive voice, the subject receives the action. The passive voice answers the question “What action was done by whom?” or “What action was done by what?”. Examples are: “The ball was dropped by John.” and “The cat was bitten by the dog.”

Why use the active voice

  • It emphasizes who or what performed the action.
  • Your reader grasps the meaning more quickly. This is important especially if your reader is using your content to do something urgent.
  • Your content is more powerful and direct, which keeps the reader interested.

When to use the passive voice

  • It is useful if you want to emphasize the receiver rather than the doer of the action.
  • You use the passive voice if you do not know who is performing the action.
  • You can use it to protect someone’s name from being released or to be tactful, for example, “Mistakes were not noticed.”

What are your thoughts on the active versus the passive voice? Please share them in the comments.

Know Your Audience

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Whether you’re writing a book, blog, article, newsletter, web content or ebook, you need to know your audience.

The saying “different strokes for different folks” applies to plain language. What is plain language to one audience may not be plain language for another.

It’s impossible to know every aspect about your audience because there are too many factors to consider. However, it’s vital that you understand your audience as much as you can. Ask yourself the questions like:

  • Who is your audience?
  • What do they know about your topic? Are they beginners, experts or somewhere in between?
  • What is their age group and gender?
  • What is their culture?
  • What is their level of education and skills?
  • What is their occupation?
  • How will they access your content (print, online, mobile device)?
  • Will they access your content from work, home, or while travelling?
  • What information do they need? Do you teach to teach them? Inform them? Entertain them? Persuade them? Train them?
  • Does your audience have unique needs or interests?

You can get answers to these questions by talking to your audience directly in one and one meetings or in focus groups. You can also talk to experts – like subject matter experts, sales and marketing staff, and customer representatives – who know your audience well.

Knowing your audience is an essential first step to writing content that meets their needs. You avoid the embarrassing problem of writing content that is not relevant to them and the expense – in time and money – of having to rewrite the content.

So, what about you? How do you get to know your audience? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

How to Write Well

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

You don’t need to be Shakespeare to write well. The secret to good writing is to write in plain language.

What is plain language

Plain language is writing from your audience’s point of view. When you create content (print or online) in plain language, your audience can quickly and easily:

  • Find what they need
  • Understand what they find the first time they read it
  • Do the right thing based on their understanding

Plain language depends on the audience. What is plain language to one audience may not be plain language to another. For example, an astrophysicist will easily understand astrophysics written in plain language; however, a person without an astrophysics background may not.

What plain language is not

Plain language is not a religion. Some people  get too fanatical and believe that all technical terms and long words should be eliminated. Doing this blindly can introduce errors and change the meaning of your content, which can ultimately turn your audience off.

Plain language is not only short words and short sentences. While these two guidelines play a very important role in plain language, you should also organize the content in a way that makes sense for your audience.

Plain language is not dumbing down the text. The goal of plain language is not to insult people’s intelligence. Rather, the goal is to express ideas clearly and accurately.

Why do we need plain language

Life is getting busier and more frantic everyday. Your audience doesn’t want to waste time “decoding” the meaning of difficult, wordy content. Plain language saves time and frustration because your audience can understand your content more quickly.

Plain language saves money on training and support because your audience won’t ask as many questions or make as many mistakes. They can follow your procedures more easily, complete forms more accurately and comply more accurately with your policies and regulations.

Plain language is good customer service. It keeps customers coming back to not only your content but also to your company.

Plain language can even save lives. How many times have you heard about medical mistakes because someone misread or misunderstood something?

While plain language can be a lot of work in the beginning, it pays huge benefits in the end.

How do we write in plain language

This is the million dollar question. Here are some guidelines to get you started:

#1: Know your audience.

#2: Write in the active voice, whenever possible. The active voice explains “who is doing what”.

#3: Keep your sentences short and simple.

#4: Address the audience as “you” to keep them engaged.

#5: Make the content visually appealing.

#6: Organize the content.

#7: Omit needless words or repetition.

#8: Use graphics, tables and charts to explain complex information.

#9: Don’t force your reader to figure out the meaning. Avoid ambiguous wording such as “and/or”, multiple negatives and unnecessary qualifiers.

#10: Test your content with your audience. For example, if you’re writing instructions on how to set up a new printer, have your audience follow your instructions and tell you if something is missing.

Got any ideas on plain language? Let me know in your comments.