Create written communication guidelines
Ever wish you had a reference tool you could hand off to new team members to answer the question, “How do we write around here?”How about a resource you could use to show serial offenders how to fix label headlines, passive voice or leads that are more likely to get readers to take a nap than to take action?
Wouldn’t you love to present a document that helps you tell your approvers, “While I personally would love to press ‘Send’ on your engineering dissertation, our policy demands that we hit 60 or higher on the Flesch Reading Ease test. We’ll need to make this brochure measurably simpler for our customers”?
Writing guidelines can help.
Think of writing guidelines as your team’s GPS for traveling from good writing to best. These are rules you agree to live by to boost your odds of reaching more readers, getting the word out and moving people to act.
We’re not talking about a style guide here. Consistent style is essential, but it’s not going to move the needle on the bottom line. This is not the place to tackle whether to use the serial comma or add a hyphen to “email.”
Writing guidelines address bigger issues: How do we write to get readers to pay attention to, understand, remember and act on our messages?
Your guidelines should cover headlines, leads, kickers, paragraphs, sentences, phrases, words, readability, passive voice, decks, links, charts and graphs, captions — all of the issues that come up in editing and during the approval process.
Command and control
To create writing guidelines:
1. Research proven-in-the-lab best practices for approaches such as:
- Crafting story angles that readers want to read, rather than those you wish they would read
- Organizing copy to draw readers in, pull them through the piece and leave a lasting impression
- Making every piece you write measurably easier to read and understand
- Reaching even nonreaders with your key messages
- Other issues you need to address
You should end up with dozens of specific best practices.
Tip: Don’t believe everything you think. Don’t base writing guidelines on gut instinct or outdated techniques you learned in college. You want to develop a comprehensive set of writing rules based on solid, contemporary research.
2. Transform research into guidelines. Use the imperative voice. Treat these as to-dos, not “here’s some information you might find useful.”
The American Press Institute found that sentences of 14 words average 90% comprehension.
Keep sentences to an average of 14 words or less.
3. Illustrate best practices. Rewrite one to three of your team members’ examples to illustrate each guideline. You’ll wind up with 50 to 60 before-and-after examples.
Would you prefer an easier way of getting customized writing guidelines into your team’s hands? If so, you might consider Wylie’s Writing Guidelines.
Send us up to 30 of your group’s writing samples in Word, and we’ll deliver dozens of guidelines — all based on proven-in-the-lab best practices and illustrated with before-and-after versions of your own writing samples.
Tip: Roll out your guidelines in an in-house writing workshop. You’ll save a little money and get more out of both services.
But whichever way you go, make sure your team gets written writing guidelines. Quality control demands it.