Many organizations looking at investing in plain language look at various stages of the process - planning, writing, editing, testing, training. But, in my experience, only a few have integrated a Style Guide into the project plan. Here are three benefits - and great return on investment - for putting resources into developing a guide.
1. Creates a road map for future projects
Plain language or clear communication is a big investment in time, human resources and funds. For many, a project may be their first - or the first in a long time. Style Guides ensure lessons learned, tested methods, and organizational plain language issues are tracked, recorded and the best options are chosen for future use. This document becomes the foundation for building all plain language activities on. The time spent developing it will be saved in later projects needing the same guidance.
2. Provides organization and staff with invaluable writing tool
Every organization - regardless of size or service - can benefit from streamlined writing and editing processes. A plain language style guide does this - and more. I know of an engineering firm that has a writer to do all their reports because it is faster, better and easier than have engineers do them. Many staff have excellent professional skills: but, not all staff are great writers. Having a guide can ensure all your writers - internal or external - are on the same page. The work you have put in developing your brand is preserved and continued with ease. Plain language requires a mix of common sense, good writing skills and reader- or user-sensitivity. Your guide will keep all of these items on staff agendas.
3.Democratizes the communication process
Writing is not longer the domain of the lonely author, taking on the world single-handedly. Writing and editing are collaborative events, that often are done with at least one team member being 'virtual'. A guide levels the playing field, creates equal opportunity across all staff levels, departments, and, new and seasoned staff. The value in training and supporting your communicators across your organization is 'priceless'. But, in saying that, it is a small investment upfront with a long-term reward.
I am currently working on a client clear communication style guide that will not only be a resource to staff, but will become a key part of their organizational client relations, training programs and culture. One small guide, one giant step forward.
Handy resources online:
Canadian Government Plain Language Guide
US Government How To
UK Plain Language Commission Guide
Kate Harrison Whiteside has over 25 years experience in plain language, writing and editing, training and consulting.