A free checklist for your COVID-19 communications

Jayne Dalmer | March 19, 2020

When your head is in a spin but you have vital information to communicate, a checklist can really help.

In swiftly changing circumstances, it’s even more important to get your communication right each time. And when your readers are stressed, you’ll want to get your messages across clearly, calmly, and consistently.

Write’s free Plain Language Standard is based on international research, testing with real readers, and 30 years of experience. We’ve used the checklist for many years and many contexts, including vital crisis communications.

Image, the Write Plain Language Standard

Write’s Standard is a ten-point check for your communication. Image by Earnsy Liu / CC BY licence

The ten points in the checklist cover every aspect of good writing, but we’ve pulled out five key tips to help you out today.

Put your main message up front

Work out what your purpose is and use that to decide on your main message. Put that message in your subject line and at the beginning of your communication.

Here’s a list of email subject lines from our inbox this week (and one that we made up):

Further implications of COVID-19
COVID-19 update from [name of business]
Coronavirus update for our customers
An update from [name of business]
A note from our editor-in-chief
Stressed? These plants can help
Online shopping is busy — shop early, allow substitutes, and choose a delivery drop-off to suit you

The last two stand out for being specific and complete. Readers can scan these subject lines and understand the main point.

Turn your other key messages into headings

Help your readers understand, remember, and refer back to your key messages by turning them into headings. Aim to write a heading for every three or four paragraphs. Use your headings to summarise the main point of the content that follows them. Write a short, complete sentence — for example:

More network changes announced today
We are resilient
Find a delivery or pick-up time that suits you
Refunds are taking a little longer than usual

Answer your readers’ questions

Plan what you write to answer your readers’ questions about your topic. If you’re writing to them about supermarket supplies, think about the specific questions they will have.

If you answer your readers’ questions in an order that’s logical to them, you’ll also have nailed your structure.

Your tone matters — write like a human, for other humans

All ten items in the checklist affect your tone — how your writing comes across and how people feel after reading it. Help them feel more empowered in a crisis by using personal pronouns, giving them clear actions and choices, and answering their likely questions. Be genuine and honest.

Your sentences and words also affect your tone. Sentences that average 9–12 words work best for busy readers. Write in the active voice so it’s clear who is doing what. Use words that reflect the way we speak to each other. Say ‘before’ rather than ‘prior to’, ‘buy’ rather than ‘purchase’, and ‘about’ rather than ‘regarding’.

Image, mac keyboard with a green Help key inserted

We’re here to help if you need more eyes on your communication. Image by Gotcredit / Flikr licence

Presentation and proofreading are necessary polish

If you’re using the checklist, you’ll be checking that your message has plenty of white space, frequent headings with good contrast, a strong left alignment, and a font that’s easy for readers of all ages to read.

And it might be the last thing you think about, but the first thing most readers will notice — so check for any typos or grammar errors that could undermine your message and credibility. Get a fresh pair of eyes to look at your writing and follow a good proofreading process.

Use our free checklist to help guide your communications.

If you’d like us to check your writing, we’re ready to help.

Help is at hand to get your communication right

Download our free Plain Language Standard
Sign up for our free online course on how to apply the Standard
Find out more about applying the Standard to your writing

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