Writing for the intranet: Old-fashioned virtues still count

Pen to illustrate copywriting servicesI’m doing quite a bit of work on a client’s intranet right now – specifically on content meant to help managers follow important HR processes via self-service. The people I’m working with are responding to criticism from users that the content is unhelpful and that they often give up and have to resort to a phone call to HR.

What my clients are coming to realise is that the intranet is not a place people come to look at pretty pictures or read promotional text about their function. And they’re certainly not interested in seeing flow diagrams of the processes. Instead, they want to get stuff done and get out of there as soon as possible so they can carry on with the day job.

This is something web gurus like Gerry McGovern and others have been saying for years in encouraging us to understand the needs of our users and build intranets that help people carry out their top tasks – whether it’s to book a meeting room, complete someone’s appraisal or submit expenses.

As Gerry tells us in his latest blog post, organisations need to move on from a print culture and a traditional marketing mindset and make the customer/user the centre of attention. I buy that all the way. But, as my client has come to see, we shouldn’t be throwing out the key component of good print communication – interesting, clear, succinct and well-edited writing.

For some reason, when people get given the keys to a content management system, whether for an intranet or website, they tend to splurge. Perhaps it’s because space is apparently unlimited by anything as trivial as a page or document length. Or maybe it’s because they feel they can always go back and make changes later so there’s no need to get it right first time. Either way, the end result is text that’s long, boring and often downright incomprehensible.

Yes, print is largely being superseded by digital – I think more than 80 per cent of my copywriting work ends up online rather than in print. And it does demand a different overall approach – it’s about do not view. But at the basic level of the text on the page, when writing for the intranet we still need to apply  good old-fashioned editorial discipline to the content we create.

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