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Chris Hodder

Writing policy documents is hard. Usually they contain some incontestable facts, but also a lot of narrative and will need to summarise multiple viewpoints from stakeholders who may not always agree on the priorities. And they’re almost always either written by a committee or signed off by one.

Here are a few tips to prevent the production of a turgid mess:

1. Be clear who your audience is
If you’re writing a health policy document for an audience of health experts, don’t write 500 words pitched at your average Sun reader. Conversely, don’t write 20,000 words packed with jargon, five-syllable words and assumed advanced knowledge if your audience are indeed Sun readers (apologies to Sun readers). This also means leaving stuff out if it isn’t relevant (save something for the next document!).

2. Identify the sign-off process
Review by committee means multiple inputs that all need managing and probably balancing. This needs to be done to tight deadlines with assumption of agreement if deadlines are missed to avoid waiting weeks before making the next round of edits. The input of some individuals will be key to getting your document over the line and it’s important that you identify them early on.

3. Be holistic
It’s easy to lose focus and spend ages getting the words just right only to find that sourcing pictures which are of a suitable format, quality and contain the right imagery ends up taking weeks and makes you miss your deadline. Online picture libraries are great for filler images at a reasonable cost, but if you need to source images from key individuals, please assume they’ll send them in the wrong format and that someone else on the committee will object to their choice. Start this process as soon as you have the skeleton of the text agreed.

4. Keep a record of edits
With dozens of minor edits and various versions flying around, version control will be tricky, particularly if you are working as a team. Keep a page (or five) at the beginning or end of your main copy of the document that lists all the edits, when they were made and who made them. This will prevent you from spending hours updating a document only to find it wasn’t the most recent version.


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