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