In today’s age of information-overload, reader preferences have shifted to quick and helpful, rather than bureaucratic and stiff. Do your business communications measure up? Here’s a checklist you can use to spot-check the effectiveness of your company’s internal and external materials. “Effective” means readers can follow the content with speed and ease, it’s meaningful to them, and they can act on the information presented without confusion.
Know your audience
• Did you prepare your communication with your audience in mind?
• Who is your audience?
• What’s important to them?
• What do they need to know in order to act on the information?
• What audience characteristics might influence the design of your communication (for example, age, computer experience, social media preference)?
Structure your content to guide readers
• Is your communication inviting?
• Does it state the benefit of the product/topic first, and in terms that are meaningful to the audience?
• Does it flow logically?
• Do you break content into short sections with natural breaking points that allow the eye to rest and the reader to reflect on the information so far?
• Can the reader scan headlines and subheads to predict what’s coming up?
• Does it contain a clear, complete and visible call-to-action?
Use plain language
• Can everyone follow your content?
• Is the most important information of each section, subsection and paragraph conveyed in meaningful headlines and subheads?
• Are your sentences short and logical?
• Does your communication contain enough detail for the reader to complete any tasks?
• Does it omit details that won’t help or that may distract readers from the main point (even if interesting)?
• Does it use transitions to connect ideas, sentences, paragraphs and sections?
• Are titles and list elements parallel (for example, start each with a verb)
Can everyone relate to your content?
• Does it use a conversational, rather than legal or bureaucratic tone?
• Do you use pronouns (you/your) to speak TO your audience, instead of about them?
• Do you humanize your company with pronouns (we/us/our)?
• Do “you/your” pronouns outweigh “we/us/our” pronouns?
Can everyone understand your content?
• Does it use strong verbs?
• Does it use active voice instead of passive voice?
• Does it use words the audience knows instead of words the writer knows?
• Do website references match the landing page names?
Design the communication so readers want to read it
• Is the design inviting?
• Are there enough meaningful headlines and subheads so the reader can scan to get the general idea without reading the body copy?
• Do you guide readers with logical font size, color and bolding?
• Is there sufficient whitespace in logical places to allow the eye to rest?
• Do images make the content easier to understand?
Test your written materials
• Are your communications effective?
• Ask several people who work in a different role to review the communication:
• Can they accurately describe who and what the document or website is intended for?
• Can they show you how to find the information they want or need?
• Can they describe key concepts or processes to a fifth grader?
• Can they complete key tasks without stumbling or asking for help?
Jeanette Juryea is President of QubComm, your Corporate Communications department in the virtual Qubicle next door. Send an email to Jeanette@qubcomm.com for professional writing, editing and design services from award-winning writers. You can also ask about writer training, brand/style guide development, existing communications analysis and more.