I’ve just been writing a new set of Tone of Voice guidelines for a large retailer. This will help people to communicate within their company, mainly in written form.
While working on this, I was thinking about how companies use such guidelines and whether employees know if their documents are hitting the mark. And if employees do know, how do they know?
The answer must be to seek feedback. But how often do any of us try and see the world from our readers’ perspective before writing? Even after we have an idea of what will press our readers’ buttons, how much effort do we put into finding out whether our written efforts were effective?
You may require some key information about your readers before taking to your keyboard, such as:
> who are your readers?
> what are their wants and needs?
> why is this subject important to them?
> what are your readers’ communication preferences?
> where do they work?
> what questions do they want answering?
> what timing issues exist?
This is all about context and the list is far more extensive than can be adequately captured here. Very often you won’t know the answers to a lot of these questions unless you ask your readers first, or find out indirectly.
Given what you know about your readers you can then start looking at how to position your document. You might ask yourself, how is the structure, argument, content, tone, style and format best presented to persuade?
After you have written and sent your document further feedback is required, the most basic of which must be, did they read it? Perhaps they gave up half way through, or maybe someone else read it for them? What was the outcome of it having been read? What did they think, feel or do differently as a result? Again, you need feedback.
But how are you realistically going to get that feedback? If you’re sending a high volume of documents around your company it may make more sense to set up a standing arrangement to review what is working and what isn’t.
You might choose, for example, to obtain aggregated feedback from managers, perhaps face-to-face which will further enable you to ask probing questions. And if you ask a manager for feedback, don’t settle for the answer that they just liked it, or didn’t like it. What didn’t they like, and what didn’t they like specifically? How did it make them feel? If they were to feel differently, what would you have to change, or do differently? Probe away.
When you have that all-important feedback you end up with a better understanding of your readers, their situation and what works for them, whether they were persuaded, and what to do differently next time.