25 October 2016 JSGS Effective Written Communications In Government

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Effective Written CommunicationsIn Government25 October 2016

ObjectivesIdentify writing problems;Learn how to analyze your writing.

ObjectivesPropose solutions;Introduce tools you can use to improve writing.

Its time to radically re-imagine how we write.

A special emphasis on audience needs.

A special emphasis on brevity and clarity.

A special emphasis on logical structure.

Our Problems

We write too muchand we dont write clearly.

We structure our information poorly.

We fail to imagine what our audience needs.


Were not engaging our readers.

No one wants to read what we write.

No one needs to read what we write.

We dont have a point of view.

We dont present a range of options.

We dont explain the implications of various options.

People dont need to grapple with our point of view.

People dont value our input.

Were not articulating a strategy.

Were not communicating effectively.

Were not doing our job.

We write too much.

Why do we write too much ?

HBR Oct 2016, pg. 55

Why Leadership Training FailsHBR Oct, 2016 Pg. 55In our work helping managers have honest conversations about the effectiveness of their organizations, we hear about six common barriers.

Six Barriers to Changeunclear direction on strategy and values;senior executives who dont work as a team;a top-down or laissez-faire style of management;

Six Barriers to Changepoor organizational design, lack of coordination;no time or attention given to fixing talent issues;fear of talking about obstacles to effectiveness.

We write too much because no one tells us to stop.

Please stop.

Other reasons we write too much

We dont know what people wantso we give them everything.

Were trying to protect ourselves.

We think no one is reading what we write.

We dont talk about the value of clarity and power.

Exercise OneThe Data Dump

Discuss and reportWhats important in the document ?Whats not ?What are they really trying to say ?How would you fix it ?

Report back

Lessons learned:If you say everything, you say nothing;Keep sentences short;Structure is important.

Data dumps

..are hard to structure.

No narrativeno voiceno storyno pointno interest.

Readers have to hunt for useful info.

Long, ponderous sentencesharm clarity.

When structuring a document,apply critical thinking.

Ask three important questions:

1) What problem are we trying to solve ?

2) What does goodlook like ?

3) How will we know when we get there ?

Audience needs.

Our audience is busy.

Our audience is looking for more information.

Our audience wants to make a decision.

Our audience are generalists.

Be clear;Be well-organized;Be brief;Be informative.

Robert D. BehnKennedy School of Government.

Effective policy writing is convincing because of the coherence of its underlying logic-and because of the clarity of its presentation of that logic.Robert Behn, 2012

No writer can save poor thinking.

Bad writing can sabotage good thinking.

Exercise TwoWhat does the audience need?

Discuss and reportWhat problem are we trying to solve ? What does good look like ?How will we know when we get there ?

Report back.


Measuring text


Govt. of Sask. briefing note.Average Score = 30-36

Good score

Bad score

Aim for:A score of 50 or better;10 - 15 words per sentence;Grade level between 6 - 8.

Grade Six readability is hard to achieve, but its not dumbing down.

Readability ScoresMajor Convention SpeechesJuly, 2016

Grade LevelMajor Convention SpeechesJuly, 2016

Text Analysis of recent govt. writing.


the march of the long sentences

Your new targets

12 -15 words per sentence

Reading Ease score:

50 or better.

Readability grade level

6 to 8

Using readability score to improve writing.

Sasktel 2014 Annual Report.Pg. 6Lets re-write it.

20 minutesCan you do better ?

Lets see how you did

My attempt

Using numbers in stories

Nate SilverThe numbers have no way of speaking for themselves; we speak for them.

Silver: The Signal and the Noisepg. 9Before we demand more of our data, we need to demand more of ourselves.

Numbers need contextAlwaysBeComparing

This is a numberSaskatchewan posts a 2015 -16 deficit of $675 m.

This is a narrative

Another narrative

The US Federal Air Marshal Service spend $800 million annually.

That $800 million represents40% of what the US Secret Service spends;10% of what the FBI spends annually.

Know the difference between numbers and stories.

Heres some other storiesOnly 5% of US flights have an Air Marshal;Since 9/11, there have been no hijackings;There have been more arrests of Air Marshalsthan by Air Marshals since 9/11.

abstract to concrete

The whole tendency of modern proseis away from concreteness.

George OrwellPolitics and the English Language1946

Concrete narratives use superlatives to move the story along.

fastest, newest, oldest, strongest,first-ever.

use of metaphor make writing concrete

Why this worked..Clearly written, concrete language;Well organized;Articulates a point of view, with consequences;A simple, defining metaphor (car).

vernacular eloquence

If we read every sentence aloud carefullyand if we then fiddle and adjust our words until they feel right in the mouth and sound right in the ear, the resulting sentence will be strong and clear.Prof. Peter Elbow

QuestionsDo you write multiple drafts ?Do you read them out loud to someone else ?

Parting thoughts

In your documents/presentations.convey a big idea;covey whats at stake;Convince me I should care.

Exhibit a clarity of intentWhat problem am I trying to solve;What does good look like;How will I know when I get there ?

Rejected opportunity costWhat happens if I do nothing ?

An audience transformedThe highest goal;Now that Ive read this, I know this;Now, I have to do something.

A presentation template

We had a big ideaIts important becauseThis idea came fromWe talked to these people, and they said

Heres how our big idea changedWe were surprised to discoverNew information created these new insightsHeres why these insights are valuable

The value propositionOur big idea will improve a process/save money/make life better for people in the following ways

Rejected opportunity costIf we do nothing, here are the consequencesHeres what they are doing on other jurisdictions

No that you now all thisYou must