Making complex language simpleCategory: CommunicationName: Alex Peel, Communications Officer
The Celtic Seas Partnership project was focused on a piece of legislation (the Marine Strategy Framework Directive) that was incredibly long and technical. Also, the marine policy environment generally used a lot of technical language. It was ironic really, all of the different policies stated how important it was to engage stakeholders but then were written using language many of their stakeholders wouldn’t understand, and even if they did, the documents were so long and stuffy very few would have been able to make the time to read them properly. The choice of language and ways of engaging were causing barriers between decision-makers and stakeholders. With stakeholders already fatigued from previous engagement we needed to make sure our approach was simple, straightforward and neutral. The language that we used to communicate – both written and spoken- was very important in achieving this.
Step by Step
- Start by looking at Plain English principles tone of voice, key messages, narrative
- Think about your tone-of-voice. How do you want to come across to people? E.g do you want to be friendly, informal or professional etc.
- Write your key messages. These should form the basis of all your communication.
- Write a narrative – write one short and one longer piece. Encourage everyone on the team to use these to communicate about the project.
- Finish by putting in place a sign-off process so you can check that everyone across the project is using the correct language etc.
Think about your audience. Anything you produce should be easy to understand by all of your stakeholders.
Avoid the overuse of acronyms. If you have to use them be sure to explain what they are in each piece of communications that they are used in.
Test what you have written on friends and family. Aim for public communication to be understood by a 12-13 year old.
Once your team get used to the tone-of-voice and the language that you use to communicate it should feel natural for them to write using it so doesn’t add any extra time.
Make sure you set aside time to sign-off all communication materials and be sure to let your team know the timescales and process for getting things signed-off
For information aimed at the public I ask my sister or grandmother to read it. If they understand I can feel confident. Somebody once said, you should aim to write to the level of a 10 year old child.
For more technical document I ask my colleagues or a professional copy writer to check it is understandable.