Stop these institutional mistakes for readability
Want to make sure you’re not eradicating clarity in your organization?
Slaughter these problems instead, suggest Martin J. Eppler, Ph.D., and Nichole Bischof. They’re the authors of “Complex to Clear: Managing Clarity in Corporate Communication.”
Top 3 clarity killers
According to participants in a survey by Eppler and Bischoff, the top three reasons corporate communications are hard to understand:
- Information overload. Including too many details in a communication vehicle (mean=3.61/5.0)
- Approval process. Involving too many people in creating the communication vehicle (mean=3.36/5.0)
- Death by tweakage. Inserting errors and inconsistencies and making too many changes to over time (mean=3.36/5.0)
Institutional clarity killers
These recurring managerial issues often lead to unclear communication, according to Eppler and Bischof:
- Too many cooks. The approval process results in inconsistent, overlapping and stylistically diverse messages. Example: An intranet article that’s been written by half-a-dozen “writers.” Driver: Lack of ownership. Solution: Give one owner the authority as well as the responsibility for the piece.
- Too big to fail. Everyone gets their own essential detail into the vehicle, which is now redundant, unclear and overloaded with information. Example: A marketing brochure that includes every grunt and groan about the project or service. Driver: “Iterations without consolidation.” Solution: Consolidate and redraft.
- Re-use abuse. Cut-and-paste segments are outdated, redundant and inconsistent. Example: A blog post that contains unedited paragraphs from a partner company’s website. Driver: Time. Solution: Fact-check and rewrite cut-and-paste passages.
- Swiss Army knife. Documents that attempt to serve multiple audiences but really serve none. Example: A press release for investors, journalists, community members and employees. Driver: Time and money. Solution: Divide and conquer. Write one piece, then tailor it to target audiences.
Clarity killers by project
Some topics and vehicles bring with them additional communication challenges. Are you communicating:
- The corporate vision and values? Clarity killer: Making these top-line messages abstract and generic. Simplicity solution: Add examples, stories and concrete details.
- Strategic direction? Clarity killer: Using the structure of the strategy, such as a balanced scorecard or strategy map. Simplicity solution: Develop an accessible visual metaphor for the audience, not for the creators.
- Social media? Clarity killer: Using jargon and communicating down a one-way street. Simplicity solution: Write in the language of the reader. Invite and listen to feedback.
Which of these clarity killers is your organization guilty of? How can you resuscitate clarity in your shop?
Source: Martin J. Eppler, Ph.D., and Nichole Bischof, “Complex to Clear: Managing Clarity in Corporate Communication,” University of St. Gallen, November 2011