It’s okay to think like a lawyer, but please don’t write like one!
These days, good communication is about being short, clear, direct, and memorable. But too many lawyers still draft training courses and policies the way they would work on a contract — they want to get absolutely everything in there in case they need it later!
But when creating training and policies, your goals as a lawyer are a little different than they would be for drafting a contract, right? You want to expand and strengthen employee knowledge and skills, creating clear standards that everyone can follow, not just those with a legal degree.
You don’t need dictionary definitions of topics and don’t need to cover every what-if. Instead, you need clear, tangible instructions so employees can do their jobs effectively and ethically.
I’ll admit, transitioning from a traditional lawyer to one who writes courses and policies was not seamless. It was tough to ignore that gut instinct to get it all in there, so I initially followed the tried and true lawyer way of throwing in the kitchen sink, cramming in as many topics, caveats, sentences, and big words as I could. I was so fearful of missing something!
Thinking of that content now makes me cringe. And my audience likely cringed, too. I mean, how many words like “herein” or “theretofore” can one person read without falling asleep? How many “i.e.” and “e.g.” lists of every possible example imaginable can one person stand before crying or throwing their computer?
No offense to all the lawyers out there, but no employee wants to read a legal treatise. A simple point, made simply, can have a lot more impact than a ton of words strewn together in a sentence whose meaning is lost on the majority of your readers.
So, after many years of doing this, what have I learned? Basically, it’s OK to think like a lawyer, but just don’t write like one!
Write like a human.
Write how you would speak to a friend.
Write simply and clearly and in plain English.
Keep sentences crisp, short, and to the point.
Remind yourself that you don’t need to put in every possible scenario to get a point across. And, employees often don’t need the name of a statute—they just need to know that certain behaviors are illegal or unethical, or both.
Keep it simple. I promise you, your audience will thank you for it.