As a team we’re always talking about the importance of good communication. Being clear and user-focused reduces cognitive load and makes it easier for readers to get the information they need. Having a consistent way of communicating increases familiarity, and helps people trust what you’re saying.
We also believe that it’s important to practise what we preach, so we recently looked at ways we can make it easier to create quality documents with shared standards, structure, and branding.
We took a collaborative approach to this challenge, as we do for all our projects. Collaboration is great for capturing a wide range of diverse viewpoints, and means the team is more likely to buy into any solution we come up with together.
As one of the most common documents we all have to write is reports, we kicked off with some report writing training. This gave us good overarching guidance on writing good reports and provided space for discussion about which areas we needed to explore further.
We held a workshop after the training to pick up on the areas identified, including what standards we would follow, and what tools and resources would be most useful to help the team.
We agreed that templates would increase efficiency when creating common types of documents, for example project updates as well as reports. These templates would need to provide a shared structure and identity to ensure quality and consistency, while remaining flexible enough to accommodate people’s different approaches and requirements.
We also needed to make sure our templates were built with accessibility in mind from the start, for example including alt text on non-decorative images and setting up headings correctly. This means that the team have a good foundation to work from and can focus on making the content as good as it can be.
Alongside the templates, we wanted to create some supporting principles to help ensure all our communication is clear and consistent. These principles covered areas including:
- how we speak about ourselves as a team
- what and how headings are used
- formatting and distribution of documents
- the review and approval process
For other questions of style, we agreed to follow the GOV.UK Style Guide where possible and relevant, as this has been proven through a lot of user research and testing. When a question isn’t covered by the style guide, we’ll decide how to approach it as a team, and add it to our own documentation principles.
Following the workshop, it was my responsibility to create initial drafts of the templates and principles from the team’s discussion notes. I shared these with the team at an early stage so that they could be shaped based on collaborative feedback. This iterative approach made sure we ended up with something the whole team was happy with, and which covers all the areas we had identified initially.
As a team, we now have a single, central, shared reference point for our documentation. The work we have done to agree our templates and principles will help ensure everything we put out is accurate, consistent, and easy for readers to access and understand.
In line with our agile approach to delivery, we’ll continue to iterate what we have in response to feedback, evolving requirements and new use cases. It’s easy to fall into the trap of creating static documents that are stored away somewhere and forgotten about, so we’re keen to avoid this by keeping our templates and principles as living, breathing references that can evolve along with the team.
How do you manage reporting or communications in your team or organisation? Let us know by leaving a comment below, and if you want to stay up to date with the WLGA Digital team comms, sign up to our newsletter.