133: Official Communication Best Practices

Introduction

There are plenty of examples of style guides, both in print and on the web, that address grammar, usage, clarity, and professionalism in all manner of written communication. This document is not intended to duplicate those efforts; members are encouraged to look up those guides on their own for advice on how to write clearly and concisely. Links to the PDFs of a few of the most well known are included at the end of this guide. This particular style guide is meant to provide an outline for the construction of official or otherwise vital written communication that is specifically related to Mind’s Eye Society, its membership and its operation.

First, it is important to remember that these are guidelines, not rules. It is essentially impossible to create a set of hard and fast rules for written and electronic communication for MES, given the huge variety of situations that communication covers. Not every letter or email will fit within the framework described below, because it is meant for anything from a local domain to the wide audience that is our global membership of more than three thousand gamers. While there are certainly points that apply to every message, it is assumed that the author will exercise best judgement and use the portions that are appropriate to what they will be sending.

General Outline

Before writing, consider the message itself.

  • What is the intended purpose of this message?
  • Will the readers see it as important and necessary to their experience in the club?
  • How should people to respond to this message?

Aim for brevity and a style appropriate to the message.

  • Organize thoughts and ideas before writing.
  • Use proper grammar and punctuation, and edit out unnecessary content.
  • If the message is long, provide a brief summary before you close.
  • Ensure that important information is highlighted.
  • Format the message so that it is easy to read.
  • Close the message with ‘next steps,’ or ways to follow up if appropriate.

Reflect on the tone you want to use.

  • Consider the audience.
  • Language should be culturally sensitive, unbiased, vivid, simple and concise.
  • Remember that people who read the email cannot ‘hear’ tone.
  • Be sure the tone fits both the audience and intent.

Consider the content of your message.

  • Be aware of laws regarding the use of copyrighted or trademarked material.
  • Be considerate when posting personal information (i.e. a home address).
  • Avoid personal anecdotes whenever possible.
  • Avoid stereotypes, unfounded assumptions, and offensive language.
  • If it is necessary to address sensitive issues, use care and respect.

Before you post:

  • Re-read the email and proofread it once it’s complete.
  • Ensure important information (times, dates, names, contact info, etc.) is correct.
  • Send the draft to 1 or 2 others for feedback and suggestions.

Posting and promoting your message:

  • Consider if the message should be reposted, where, and how often.
  • Make note of the places your message has been posted.

Message Construction

To both keep the audience reading and get the message across, craft with clear intention. Reflect on the audience, as well as both primary and secondary purposes of the letter before writing. Make sure that any secondary points don’t weaken or detract from the primary point. It’s useful to start with an outline, or at least a list of the things that need to be included in the message, to organise the letter and keep it brief. Begin by stating the purpose early and concisely. If the message is going to be long, including a summary of the key points will help those readers who tend to skim through messages. Use proper grammar and punctuation, make sure that important details are correct, and be certain that the owners of personal information or protected intellectual property have given permission for their information to be used publicly.

Members are engaged in a World of Darkness when they play with the Mind’s Eye Society. The real world is also far from perfect, and there are times when officers or members may have to address particularly sensitive issues in their communication. Because the membership is wide and varied, it is particularly important that all out-of-character communication reflect respect for those differences. Strive for equity, rather than equality. Treating everyone as though they are the same is not really awareness; it is our differences – in background, in desires, and in experience – that makes us unique.

Of particular relevance in writing is the choice of language. While it may seem fairly innocuous on the surface, using words like ‘holiday event’ instead of ‘christmas event’, or ‘chair’ or ‘chairperson’ instead of ‘chairman,’ is easily more inclusive of a diverse membership. When writing, look for ways to shift word choices to ones that reflect that diversity. When writing about disabilities and persons with disabilities, always put the person first. Also be certain that terms that reference a group in the overall community are used correctly: for instance, the word “gay” should be used as an adjective, not a noun.

Also relevant in writing for MES is the use of personal anecdotes. While these are good to illustrate points in casual conversation, and can provide context to a written message, they are often unnecessary and can make the email unnecessarily long. It’s also rare that the anecdote applies the vast majority of the membership. They often include stereotypes, negative depictions of particular groups of people, and unfounded assumptions, which are all things to avoid in official, out of character writing. In the end, anecdotes more often serve to confuse the reader than to support the point.

Try to use the language of everyday speech. Showy words and long-windedness often obscures meaning and loses the reader before they’ve reached the end. Use simple sentences. Basic formatting and short, cohesive paragraphs also help. Edit unnecessary content, but if the message is still long, provide a summary to close the email or letter or use bullet points of key items to open the email if there is a concern that a reader will not reach the end.

Message Review

Once the message is written, always read it over at least once to check content and ensure that formatting is consistent. Make sure important information is correct as well as highlighted when appropriate. Consider any statements that might be inflammatory or confrontational, whether or not they are truly necessary or if they are likely to have unintended effects. Review secondary points to be certain they don’t detract from the message, and edit out content that does. It’s advisable to send the draft to at least one or two others to be certain that the intention and language of the message is clear, to double check facts and dates, and to provide feedback when necessary.

Message Posting

MES uses a large number of lists to communicate information to the membership. Before posting, consider both the desired response to the message and the potential audience. Check what lists are best to send the message to – it might be most lists, it might be only a few. Make a note of what lists are used, in case there is there is any need for follow up to the original message.  Make note of when the original message and any follow-ups were posted. For some messages repetition or reminders are completely appropriate, but there is a line between reminding and spamming. As a general rule, wait a week after posting the initial email to send a reminder. If further reminders are necessary – or if there isn’t a full week to wait – send a remember 24 hours before the applicable deadline. In cases where a headcount is necessary, remember that people do often miss e-vites; rather than sending multiple e-vites, it is better to contact the non-responders privately.

Further information on these topics can be found here:

http://www.utexas.edu/brand-guidelines/writing-style-guide

http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/effective-e-mail-communication/

http://www.unh.edu/inclusive/bias-free-language-guide

http://www.academia.edu/4147155/Culturally_Sensitive_Social_Work_Practices_for_Administrators

http://www.slideshare.net/uyvillage/cultural-sensitivity

http://www.hecr.tifr.res.in/~bsn/IITB/soccomm.pdf

http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED511754.pdf

General Writing Style Guides

Elements of Style – http://faculty.washington.edu/heagerty/Courses/b572/public/StrunkWhite.pdf

Ten Lessons on Clarity and Grace – http://cs-wwwarchiv.cs.unibas.ch/lehre/fs10/cs304/_Downloads/williams.pdf