7 tips for flaw-free employee communication

November 4, 2011

in writing

i’m feeling ever practical as i fly over texarkana, so i’m breaking from routine and posting about writing.

nothing fouls up a great communication piece faster than a phone number that leads an employee to a lovely lady instead of your benefits call center. sure, you’ll live that down—eventually—but why put yourself in that position in the first place? avoid flawed communications with these seven tips.

1. create a style guide. a style guide seems to focus only on the picayune—the way you treat italics or other punctuation, for instance. but for anyone who’s ever tried to make heads-or-tails of whether an insurer’s pharmacy plan is the same as the one the company’s talking about, you’ll know how something as seemingly trivial as consistently using the same plan name aids understanding. create a style guide that captures program and plan names, phone numbers, URLs, and yes, titling and punctuation so that your employees won’t have to fight through the name debris to know what you’re referring to.

2. get friendly with a readability test. it’s time to break your SAT-level-word-spouting habit. it doesn’t make you dumb, unschooled or unworldly to use one- or two-syllable words. it makes you understood. set your employee communications at the 6th to 8th grade level.

3. move your bod. we retain more information when we study in different locations. so, print out your materials (another tip), and get up and go. you’ll remove online distractions and heighten your attention, all in one swift move.

4. drag your pen. focus on what you’re reading with a little mind-body action. drag your pen beneath each line as you read. this slight physical movement makes you mindful of the content above it.

5. read aloud. you can’t ignore errors, poorly constructed sentences or the repetitive use of one word when you read aloud. you’ll detect these problems and improve the musicality of your writing when you speak it before sending it.

6. develop your advance team. your review team ensures that your content’s accurate. your advance team ensures that your content’s clear. give your communications to a sample audience. they’ll tell you whether what you wrote says what you think it does.

7. hire a proofreader. a proofreader isn’t that office worker with the cool, red-feathered pen or the one who happens to glide by your desk at an opportune moment. a professional proofreader is someone who’s trained to detect grammatical errors as well as language and style inconsistencies. a professional proofreader visits all the URLs and dials all the phone numbers in your materials. a professional proofreader keeps you from unwittingly sending your employees to that lovely lady and not your outsourced benefits customer service center. (this is a true story. my proofreader and i saved a client from doing just this with their annual enrollment communications. no one ever doubted her value again.)

what would you add?


p.s. this post clocks in at a 7th grade reading level, even with my use of the word picayune. did you feel talked down to?

Leave a Comment

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Bob Merberg November 5, 2011 at 11:14 am

These are great tips, Fran. I’d propose one more that I increasingly try to add to various communication campaigns I lead: Use images.

This is not about people having different learning styles (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc.). That hypothesis fortunately is being laid to rest.

Even as a word-geek who has historically thought of himself as “non-visual,” I am learning that visual communication helps everyone who can see.


fran November 5, 2011 at 4:31 pm

the use of images is a great tip. i held back a lot of tips on how to write and design good content and focused here on making sure what you did write was error-free. maybe i should write another post — and include your tip in it.



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