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Managing change: how to write a good piece of communication

When it comes to challenges in writing communications artefacts, I think no one could have captured it better than Shakespeare. These immortal lines from Hamlet sum it up:

“Lord Polonius: What do you read, my lord?

Hamlet: Words, words, words.

Lord Polonius: What is the matter, my lord?

Hamlet: Between who?

Lord Polonius: I mean, the matter that you read, my lord.”

True, communication artefacts are full of words, words, words and the first thing everyone wants to know is ‘What is the matter?’ or, as many professionals would like to brand it as, ‘What’s in it for me (WIFM)’.


There are some basic points that all project, change and communications professionals take into account when writing a piece of communication, e.g.

  • What is the purpose of sending this piece of communication?

  • Who are the target audience for this?

  • How does my communication piece align with the project timeline?

  • What level of skills do I need to be able to write this piece correctly, i.e. not just grammar, punctuation, but also what level of understanding do I have about the subject matter? Do I need to consult a subject matter expert SME on this? What if my SME is very time poor and doesn’t have the time to review my draft?

  • What is the level of literacy of my target audience?

  • Is there any styling preference of my target audience?

  • What do I want my audience to do after reading this piece of communication?

There is nothing surprising about the above. If you ask any professional or refer to any book on communications, they will mention these questions. In addition to the above, based on my professional experience, I would like to add these questions:

  • How do I define a good piece of communication? Is it just something that reads well, i.e. written in Plain English that everyone will understand? Or is it something that will make the target audience do certain activities?

  • Have I used the appropriate glossary for this piece of communication that will suit the industry I am working in?

  • After they have read the piece of communication, how do I want my audience to do the following?

    1. Think

    2. Feel

    3. Act

Having the answers to the above questions is not enough. To be able to write a good piece of communication, i.e. a piece that addresses all the above questions and relates to the audience, a change / communication professional should do the following:

  • Spend some time in understanding what the project is about, i.e. whether it is about a new system release or it is a regulatory project. One good way to achieve this for a change / communication professional is to spend time with their colleagues on the project, e.g. business analysts, compliance SMEs, an expert lawyer, any relevant SME (depending on what industry you are working in).

  • Investigate whether there are specific terminology for the specific project. I remember I spent time with an SME to understand the differences between Ordinary resident and Ordinarily Resident.

  • I personally have benefited by always reading a business requirements document (BRD) even though I had to hear this question a lot of the times even from experienced professionals, ‘You are not a business analyst, why do you need to read the BRD?’

  • Review some examples of previous communication artefacts used in the organisation for a similar project.

The most important requirement for a professional to be able to write a good piece of communication is honing their story telling skills. Every good piece of communication tells the audience a story, covering:

  • What happened before.

  • What’s happening now and why.

  • What’s going to happen in the near future.

  • Why they are relevant to what is happening and vice versa.

  • What should they do to avoid anxiety.

  • How they will be made to travel from ‘as is’ to ‘to be.’

  • How they will be supported.

  • How will the new world look like.

A good story never loses its appeal. As long as the draft of a piece of communication starts with the elements of a good story, the chances are high that the other required elements can be added to this to make it a good piece of communication. But if there is no element of storytelling in it, you should doubt whether it will become a good piece of communication.

Author's note: You may also consider my article, Corporate / business communication: writing an effective email.


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