Structure’s difficult when you don’t put customers first

I’ve been dismantling some BIG documents this week. The smallest was 13,000 words long. Its big sister was a whopping 34,000.

These documents have a purpose. They need to tell a generalist audience – easily and quickly – how to comply with regulation, the law and company best practice.

The number one thing getting in the way of them being able to do this as effectively as possible was their structure. These documents made complete sense to the technical specialists who’d written them – but confused their intended audiences.

I think people often expect me to jump into tone of voice whenever I’m feeding back on a document. But tone of voice is the icing on top of the cake. The fundamentals are decent structure and straightforward communication.

And structure seems to be something that people struggle with – particularly the larger a document, website or any other collection of information gets.

So here’s the answer: Think about what your customer, client or reader wants to know. What they’ll be most interested in. Which pain points you’re able to solve for them… and make sure the information you give them flows around these points.

For them to hit the spot, your communications need to be outward looking.

This example is from a book I wrote on tone of voice a couple of years ago. On the left-hand side, the information is all about the service provider. It looks inward. It doesn’t address customer pain points. It’s boasting almost – and who cares?

Structure - before and after example

Customers, your colleagues, clients – whoever your readers are – they don’t have a lot of time. So structure your information in the way they need to read it. Take time planning – and be prepared to completely take a document to pieces and start it all over again.