Top tips for… writing intranet stories

Post by Sarah Holliday, writer at HM Revenue & Customs

Thursday 10 January 2019

Tops tips for... writing intranet stories

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin

It’s said all the best stories start with once upon a time, but clearly that’s not the case when writing for your organisation.

Your story still needs to be compelling, it also needs a structure and, above all else, you must always be mindful of your audience.

Many of your readers are pushed for time; some will just skim the content and others may only glance at your headline to see if it’s worth reading on. So, you need to make sure your copy is concise as well as easy to read and understand.

On your marks…     

Before you even start, think about why you’re writing in the first place.

  • Who’s your audience?
  • What do they need to know?
  • What’s the most important message?
  • What’s useful to know and what’s nice to know?
  • What do you want your readers to do as a result?

Answering these questions will focus your article and may help you decide whether you even need it in the first place.

Please read on

So, how can you encourage your reader to read beyond your headline? Here are some quick tips:

  • get to the point
    make your headline and first few lines tell the whole story. How would you explain your story to a friend within two sentences?
  • keep it succinct
    before drafting list your key points and keep these to a maximum of three, otherwise your message will be lost
  • use active language
    instead of: ‘it was decided’ tell your readers who decided. If you use the active voice it not only makes your writing easier to read, it’s more engaging – the passive voice absolves responsibility
  • break down information
    use informative headings and bulleted lists
  • use short sentences
    the ideal sentence length is around 20 words but this can be tricky. Around 30 words should be the limit – just try reading it out loud in one breath
  • be frugal with your word count
    avoid repetition, unnecessary detail and superfluous words.

Write to communicate – not to impress

Make reading easy for your audience: don’t over-use capital letters or scatter your copy with acronyms. These can make a sentence confusing and interrupt the flow of reading. You want your audience to read your article once and understand it first time.

Include contractions, but avoid clunky ones – such as shouldn’t’ve – they should make your writing more lively and friendly, not be a hindrance.

Use words everyone will understand – no metaphors or jargon – and avoid corporate speak as much as possible. There’s a handy list of alternative words on the Plain English Campaign’s website. And, don’t include Latin phrases. We don’t say ‘e.g’ and ‘i.e’ in speech – leave it out of your writing too.

And remember, always use your department’s style guide.

Write for everyone

Remember some of your audience may be using assistive technology so avoid italics – screen readers can’t read the text – and make sure any hyperlinks are contained within the text which explains the link, for example: For more information, visit our intranet homepage. Never use ‘click here’.

When all is done

Finally, get someone else to read your copy before you publish it. What may seem straightforward and clear to you, could be confusing to someone else.