If you think people want to read your company's instructional and comms material you would be wrong, wrong, wrong. They don't - that's a fact.
But now, more than ever, you have to impart important legal and instructional information for your staff and customers. That's fine. We have seen how the cabin safety message for commercial flights is now a bit more interesting than it was 5 years ago. If you're like me, you appreciate the effort some airlines have made.
Accept this one simple fact - web sites and instructional material are inherently boring. People might seek out instructional material but they will quickly quit if it is too hard or too boring to follow. They'd rather make a mistake or abandon the task or worse still ask someone nearby for help. And thus the effectiveness of the documentation degrades in direct proportion to the blandness of the text.
You might think it is better to be complete and accurate and boring. Wrong and wrong! Writers often fall into the trap of thinking that if the documentation is complete then it has to be valued by the reader. However, the reader won't get to appreciate that the text is complete because they won't read it. So, you need to come at the information from a different angle - that is to engage the reader's attention.
Take the opportunity to engage with your reader. All the best Help pages are continuously monitored by staff for engagement. Talk to your audience before you commence writing and understand what they are interested in and what they need to know. It takes a little extra effort to actually get in a room with the audience but it will pay off when you write your material.
There are some basic rules to making instructional and information heavy text engaging - use the active voice, make sentences short and easy, avoid a high fog index. But they don't go far enough - you, the writer need to extend yourself and write for the audience.
Managers and approvers - don't just check the box to say your team's documentation or website is complete without first reading the material you've asked for and seeing if it fit for purpose.
Revisit the text
If you're not revisiting the reader's engagement with the page then you risk overburdening your Help Desk as people skip the online help and instead go directly to them.
Engagement is better than lecturing
Don't confuse the process of gathering the information with the task of making the information easy to read. Too many writers are hung up on the process of gathering the information and pretty much throw the process back at the reader. However, the reader isn't always able to appreciate the process without a leg-up. Give them context and give them reasons for reading.
We ask these questions before we publish a page:
There's really no point writing dense informational text if you don't engage with the reader.
Follow the Positive Outcome method to lead the audience to engage with the material they're reading. This way you won't be wasting your effort, time and money.