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Writing standards for clear board communication

By Dana Skopal, PhD | 14 June 2015

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As discussed previously by Mary Morel, Standards Australia has developed a standard for board reporting. These standards cover both reporting responsibilities and presenting information. Whether you are reporting or presenting, the task involves writing. The issue then becomes how can we provide staff with writing standards (or writing training) that will ensure the board papers are clear, concise and easy to read?

Many people would view writing as putting sentences together and using correct grammar and punctuation. Sentences, grammar and punctuation may have been how writing was taught in the past, but time and technology have changed that. Technology has also changed how we read.

My recent readability research has shown that readers require more structure when dealing with information documents and our writing processes need to reflect that. Therefore, any writing standards that enable clear communication for the reader need to include steps or benchmarks for writers to follow and use as an editing checklist. Good writing is like information design, and this approach takes staff’s understanding of writing standards to a different level.

Reporting to the board entails designing or structuring the information for the reader – the board members. From a linguistic perspective, information design, when taken in its broadest context, implies an advanced blending of:

  • content structure (ordering of information)
  • appropriate wording (including coherent sentences)
  • visual formatting (layout).

This blending can be set in standards, and also can be measured. My research data included quantitative measures and showed that different readers relied on their personal blending of structure, wording and layout when reading and comprehending regulatory information. Do you know how you draft or read your board papers?

Standards imply a level of quality. In board papers, the quality and clarity of information is important. Staff need to understand the right balance between too much and too little detail, as well as learn writing strategies to use structure, wording and formatting to convey the key detail clearly, coherently and concisely.

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