Draft the content, craft the message

Very few organisations set out to publish documents that are confusing or difficult. Usually ambiguous or obscure documents happen by accident. What goes wrong?

Well, often the job is only partly done. Merely putting content together is rarely enough.

Organisations assign subject matter experts to research carefully, organise the content and conduct peer reviews. But then they publish without serious design thinking.

They miss a vital step: crafting the content into an effective communication piece.

Subject matter experts are usually very bright with a deep knowledge of their subject – their input is essential. However, they cannot help but write from their perspective, using their frame of reference and their language. Many readers need the material translated and put into a form that makes sense to them.

For example, a subject matter expert may write:
“Employees must not facilitate or permit the use of employer communication devices by persons not authorised by the Department, unless urgent business or personal circumstances would reasonably require such use.”,
but it is clearer if a user reads:
“You must not allow the Department’s equipment to be used by unauthorised people, unless there is a urgent need”.

Crafting communication from draft content is more than just getting the words right. It involves serious information design with an eye to the user and what they need to do with the information. It involves rethinking structure, document format and graphics.

It’s best to think of writing a complex document as a two-step process:

  1. draft the content (what you want to say)
  2. craft the message (how it should be said)

Two types of expertise are needed – the content expert and the communication expert.

Action

Next time you write a document, remember to both “draft and craft”. Consider involving a communication expert early.

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