United we stand

Corinna Lines | April 9, 2020

image, white text on a blue background saying 'Keep calm and wash your hands'

Great advice, during a crisis or any other time. Image by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention / CC-BY-NC-ND

Since New Zealand entered Level 4 lockdown on 25 March, we’ve all been bombarded with ‘important update’ emails, as well as the glut of advice and information from news media and social media sources. Every morning we check for new restrictions or directions as the world changes rapidly.

In this post, we highlight some of the excellent examples of communication from official channels in our little corner of the world. And we see how well they fit into Write’s guidelines for clear communication.

Writing for a reason

With all types of communication, we advise starting by identifying your purpose, readers, and what you want to achieve. Sorting out the what, who, and why at the start works for pretty much any writing, from email to policy.

The purpose seems clear when the writer is advising about COVID-19: most writers want to explain what’s happening, to inform their clients, customers, or readers. Official channels want people to understand what they can and can’t do during the lockdown. If your audience is the general public, aim to keep the language accessible.

When thinking about what you want to achieve, think also about tone — how your writing will ‘sound’ to the reader. The impressive thing about our national combined approach to COVID-19 communication is the consistent message of us all accepting constraints on our lives to keep infection rates under control.

Making the main messages clear

Clear messages are even more important when they’re advising an entire country in anxious times. The billboard posters at the end of my street say:

Stay home.
Save lives.
Find out more at…
Unite against COVID-19

Look at those clear messages! Each starts with a verb. They’re short, simple, and easy to remember. The brief text includes a link to the website for more information. You feel a sense of urgency, but also that we’re all in this together.

Image, New Zealand government's 'Stay home. Save lives' COVID-19 awareness posters

Uniting in isolation. Image by Corinna Lines / CC-BY-NC-ND

Using words for good

Write’s strapline is Using the power of words for good — and in the national campaign the government is doing the same thing.

Consider the contrast of what we’re all being asked to do: to isolate ourselves at the same time as we unite for the common good. That’s not an easy message to get across. As we retreat into our bubbles, we need to feel part of something bigger. Something positive. We need to be reassured that our own isolation is a service to thousands, perhaps millions, of others in this country.

Talking like humans

At Write we do a lot of work to help people write more clearly and concisely. We often work with clients to identify their main messages and focus on what their readers need to know. It’s so encouraging for us to see good communication happening in a time of crisis.

We see natural communicators Jacinda Ardern and Dr Ashley Bloomfield talking conversationally but confidently to the nation, and we feel reassured that the country is in safe hands.

The Slate discusses ‘The Bloomfield Effect’

Read more about writing well in difficult times

Write consultant Jayne Dalmer writes about using a checklist for good COVID-19 communication:
A free checklist for your COVID-19 communications

Our CEO Lynda Harris recommends taking care with your tone in this LinkedIn blog post:
Tone is the winner!

Insights, tips, and professional development opportunities.