Raising the bar: The case for web writing training for council staff

I ran a series of web writing workshops for a local council in Sydney recently. And during one of the sessions, one participant piped up with this profound observation:

Our website is like a record of every thought that’s ever happened at our council… since the dawn of time.

Roars of laughter followed – because her comment was scarily accurate.

If you work for a city council (or other large organisation such as a university or TAFE), chances are your website is drowning in clunky, irrelevant and dated content.

And chances are, your in-house content team is copping the blame.

But it’s not their fault.

Why? Because they’re subject matter experts – not web writing experts.

Tina may know all about town planning. And Rob may know all about recycling and waste. But how can we expect them to know all there is to know about effective writing for the online environment… if they’ve never been trained?

Thankfully, some organisations understand this, like the council in Sydney I mentioned earlier.

This council engaged me to train 60+ team members on how to write for the web before the relaunch of their website. This relaunch provided the perfect opportunity to improve the readability of their 350+ webpages – and transform their team into web writing whizzes!

When council staff members know how to write effective online content, the benefits extend far and wide.

But for the sake of this blog post, let’s explore five.

1. A happier community. A happier team. 

Every day, countless people visit your council website for clear answers to their questions.

And if it doesn’t deliver?

They’ll either disengage, take the wrong course of action – or call you… only to get passed from person to person in a futile game of bureaucratic handball.

With the right training however, your staff will have the skills they need to produce clear, simple, jargon-free content that answers customer questions.

The result? A happier community. A happier team. And as a bonus, improved internal efficiencies.

2. A consistent tone of voice

When people with different personalities and writing styles write content for the same website, readers can be left feeling very confused.

One moment you’re casual and approachable. The next, you’re stiff and pompous.

No wonder people don’t know what your brand is all about.

Training your people to write in a consistent tone of voice will make readers feel at ease because they’ll know what to expect from you.

Familiarity brings comfort.

3. More tuned in to your readers

At the start of every web writing workshop, I challenge participants to think about their readers. Deeply.

I ask them to explore values, motivations, pain points, social constraints and more.

And each session, I’m surprised to discover that this is the first time many of the participants have given their audience more than a second’s thought.

Challenging your team to recognise readers as human beings – rather than faceless, generic ‘users’ – is the first step to creating effective and engaging website content.

4. A salute to your style guide

If your organisation has a Writing Style Guide, congratulations. You’re one step ahead of the many organisations that don’t.

But wait. Don’t get too excited just yet.

Are your people actually referring to it?
Are they familiar with it?
Do they even know it exists?

Training your people on how to write for the web is the perfect opportunity to remind them about your Writing Style Guide – and to reinforce the value of brand and grammatical consistency.

5. Respecting diversity

When writing for a large audience, it’s critical to consider the many people in our community with disabilities, cognitive limitations and language barriers.

That’s why your content team must be well versed in WCAG 2.0 – a set of international guidelines that specify how to make content ‘accessible’. For example:

  • When you name links meaningfully, you are including blind people using text-to-speech software and/or text-to-Braille hardware

  • When you write in plain English, people with dyslexia and other learning difficulties are better able to understand your content

When your people know how to maximise web accessibility, you will improve the lives of people with disabilities, connect with a wider audience, avoid bad press – and prevent lawsuits.

But these aren’t the only benefits to your organisation. Following these guidelines will also make your web content easier for all readers!

If you want to equip your people with better web writing skills, this course can help.