Content is important. It influences thoughts, emotions, and actions. Good content makes the world better, and bad content makes it worse.
At Big Blue, we use an internal writing style guide to help our teammates create clear and compelling content. This guide governs our writing for reports, human interest stories, website and social content, speeches, scripts and even emails.
We are sharing it here for other teams as a foundation for their own communication. Feel free to share and adapt.
10 steps to clear, compelling content
Fact-check. Reputations depend on it.
Write to create human connections. Stories are about people. Write with emotion. No robot language.
Short words, sentences, and paragraphs. To create connections, stories must first be understood. Many audiences do not use English as a first language. Less than 25 words per sentence as per UK government practice. Comprehension drops as sentences become longer.
Get to the point fast. Drop adverbs and adjectives unless necessary. No throw-away statements. Reduce noise in your writing. Every idea and word matters. One minute = 150 spoken English words or 250 read words. Plan accordingly.
Modern UK English. No archaic language.
Proofread. Proofreading is conscientious, caring, and professional. You are in charge of your own proofreading.
Use jargon and acronyms with care. They save time for some audiences, but alienate others. Aim for acronym-free writing.
Helpful, memorable titles and headings. These give structure. They also attract attention. Up to 80% of readers may never see more than a title, so make it count, and write several versions of it before choosing the best.
Active voice where possible.
Words + images = power. Images often communicate faster than words. Use often.
How to write as part of a team
Write in real-time collaboration tools like Google Docs.
Use ‘style headings’. These save time, money, and mental health. This is not optional.
Use agreed filenaming conventions. Do not use your own filenaming conventions.
Put files on the shared drive. This is safer and more helpful than storing on your own device. Store in logical locations for easy searching.
Proofread. See above.
‘Track’ changes when reviewing others’ work. Be a kind, critical editor.
Our team seeks a Digital Communications Specialist with incredibly strong writing skills to join our Dhaka team.
Read the job description
Murky and soulless vs clear and compelling writing
Example: Murky and soulless
On Thursday, 30th March 2018, project stakeholders were assembled at the Inclusive Business Conference held at Amari Hotel in Dhaka to discuss financial inclusion for all and Bangladesh’s progress towards achieving the SDGs.
At the event, our team was responsible for leading a presentation on access to finance for the nation’s underprivileged people. The presentation was attended by the Chief Guest, Special Guest and Honourable Guest, as well as ministers and business executives.
The presentation was opened by the Master of Ceremonies, who introduced the need for MFS to be incorporated into the vision for Digital Bangladesh. Our team then gave a presentation that highlighted the main points of our research. Consumers are using MFS, but small business owners are not doing so to a large extent. Government must take steps to ensure that MFS are taken up by small business owners in order to promote innovation across the country.
Why this does not work: Long-winded and not direct. Robot language. No emotion. Focuses on the wrong details. Mis-prioritisation of information slows reading. Does not get to the point fast enough. Throw-away phrases include ‘financial inclusion for all’. Passive voice throughout. Includes alienating acronyms.
Example: Clear and compelling
Last Thursday at the first-ever Inclusive Business Conference in Bangladesh, we presented our research into small business owners’ use of mobile financial services.
Overall, the outlook is poor. Citizens are indeed picking up services like bKash and Rocket to transfer small amounts of cash, but small business owners do not see a strong case for incorporating digital services into their operations. In fact, less than 20% of small business owners use digital services for deposits or loan applications. More than 60% of surveyed business owners feel that mobile financial services are less secure than more traditional financial services.
This perception of mobile financial services is bad for business and for the country’s development. The government must create a better environment that encourages small business owners to move to digital services if the country wants to compete with others in the region. This is urgent, particularly as Bangladesh is now, according to a recent Global Innovation Index Report, the least innovative country in Asia.
Why this works: Short sentences, simple words. Gets to the point. Avoids pomp. Includes hard facts. Offers context. Gives readers a lot to think about. Creates a sense of urgency. Sentences start with helpful ‘linking’ words such as ‘Overall’, and ‘In fact’. Includes helpful hyperlink to report where readers can do more in-depth research.