Cut the drivel - Plain English for Employee Communications
— August 14th, 2018
That is not a word used too often, but it is a good one. According to the Encarta dictionary, it is ‘silly and irrelevant or inaccurate talk’.
The story and activity behind the UK based Plain English Campaign is a good one. One woman in Liverpool (Chrissie Maher OBE) took it upon herself to change how company and public sector documents were written for ordinary people. She wanted to rid the world of jargon.
Why? Because bad writing confused people and made them feel stupid.
"Since 1979, we have been campaigning against gobbledygook, jargon and misleading public information" is their mantra.
And what has that to do with internal communications?
Plenty. Have a look at your intranet, for example. Look at some of those policies or updates from the IT Department, HR or Finance. Riveting stuff I bet. And people are expected to read and understand these as they read on a monitor. I won’t even mention trying to read it on a mobile device.
Do you understand?
See the word ‘understand’? That’s crucial. Putting content on your site or intranet usually means a box has been ticked, and a job done. But is that content going to be read and understood or even result in action being taken? If the language used for much of the content is, well, dull and uninspiring, what happens? Nothing. If people don’t read it in the first place, that’s a fail. If they do try to read it and can’t understand it, that’s also a fail.
How to lose hours in a day.
Sometimes people don’t read and understand the content they are meant to be viewing. If they are confused or unsure, they email, call or visit the relevant person in the office. If 20 people did this over the course of a day and spent say, 10 minutes doing it, then that adds up to a lot of wasted and unproductive time, over 3 hours. And what about the people or team such as HR, IT or customer services handling the query? Dealing with the same questions or explaining the same solution many times a day is such a waste of time for everyone. Never mind the cost to the organization.
If it had been written clearly and simply in the first place, then those queries could be avoided. Sure, it’s a simplistic example but it goes on all the time in many organizations.
How to be ‘drivel free.’
Back to ‘drivel’ and how to avoid it. The Plain English Campaign has many resources to help content producers to create readable and easy to understand content. But here’s a few quick tips to keep your content drivel free:
- Short sentences. But you can have a longish sentence if it makes sense to do so.
- Use short action words. Do, call, buy, enroll, make, return, choose, pick, etc.
- Write good headlines and subheadings that are clear and concise. And make people want to read on. You don’t have to clever. Just make it useful and relevant. “How to submit cash expense claims” for example.
- Use short paragraphs, bullet points, numbered items to break up the text.
- Limit or avoid jargon and an organization’s internal phrases.
- And use strong, clear and interesting subject lines for emails. That is so important for getting your content read.
- Don’t forget how it will be read on a computer monitor or mobile device. People SCAN on-screen text for keywords or phrases. Structure your content so that it can be read quickly. Perhaps have a summary of the key points at the top. Then give more detail.
Oh, there are lots more but try the Plain English Campaign’s site for more advice. They are pretty good at it. Think about the person who has to read and understand what you have written. Will they understand it? And if they won’t, re-write it. Again. Avoid drivel, it will be worth it. Of course, the principles of Plain English are relevant in any language, so please, cut out the jargon.
- Plain English Campaign - http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/
- Drivel Defence - http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/drivel-defence.html
- In Ireland, the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) also do plain English training and support - https://www.nala.ie/
- App for clearer writing - http://www.hemingwayapp.com/
- Readability - Flesch Reading Ease test - The Flesch–Kincaid readability tests are designed to grade the level of reading difficulty of a text. It is available in Microsoft Word. https://support.office.microsoft.com/en-us/article/Test-your-documents-readability-85b4969e-e80a-4777-8dd3-f7fc3c8b3fd2?CorrelationId=33f1d2ba-53cb-49d2-8308-0341d5943d14&ui=en-US&rs=en-001&ad=US
- This post has a Flesch Reading Ease test score of 72.3, which is considered fairly easy to read.