How you treat your employees is how you treat your customers.

Well, so to speak.

Employees are the face of your company. They’re the ones who interact with customers the most—and who a customer interacts with can make a big difference, for good or bad.

This is where you come in.

To do their jobs well, your employees need to be engaged and connected to the company, so you’ve got to connect with them first.

And here’s how you do it. Follow these 12 steps to write a quality internal communications piece:

1. Listen Up!

Okay, you got me. This isn’t exactly a step.

But it is important, so I’m telling you up front: you’ve got to keep your eyes and ears open.

If you’re going to be consistently writing to employees, you need to know what’s going on in your company—and how employees are handling it.

How else are you going to know what issues needs to be addressed?

Or that you need to change your approach?

You won’t. So pay attention now, and you can apply what you learn later, every time you write a piece.

2. Plan Ahead

Don’t start writing without a plan.

If you’re on a time crunch, you might feel like spending a few minutes to scratch out some rough ideas or a mind map is a waste of precious time, but I’m afraid I’d have to disagree.

If you know where it is you’re headed, you can figure out the best way to get there.

If you don’t know,  you might find yourself wandering in circles.

And if you’re in a hurry, you just don’t have time for that.

Here’s what you need to think about to get pointed in the right direction. Be sure to jot down some notes while you’re thinking:

  • Know your purpose. What are you trying to say to your employees? What do you want them to take away from this piece? Try to stick with one purpose, and then write it down. This is your anchor. Everything you write should tie back to your purpose. If it doesn’t, it’s a distraction, and you’ll need to let it go.
  • Consider your audience. This is a big one. You’re writing for internal communications, so you already know who your audience is: your employees. If you’ve been listening up, you’ll also know their needs and concerns, and which ones you might need to address in your piece. Just make sure you’re writing for them, and not for your boss. Remember who you’re trying to connect with.
  • Think about format. What will be the most ideal format for what you want to say? Can you send it in an email, or do you want to give employees something they can hold, like an article in the company magazine? Different factors will shape your decision. Time-sensitivity may determine a digital format, while employees without access to a company intranet, like retail workers, may need something physical.

3. Outline

So you know where you’re going.

But do you know how you’re getting there?

Time to draft a rough outline. Take a good look at any of the thoughts you wrote down earlier and start to put them in a logical order.

Break your purpose down into parts. If you’re writing about safety hazards, for example, create a section for each of the three hazards you’re covering.

If you have lots of points to make, organize them into categories to make your line of thought easy to follow.

Be sure to jot down an idea for a solid intro and a conclusion that wraps everything up.

You can even give it a title before you start, if that helps you find some direction. Just know that you might scrap it before you’re done.

4. Start with a Bang

Literally. The louder the better.

Okay, not really, but you do need to get their attention right away.

Readers don’t always stick around, especially not online, but you need draw them in before you worry about keeping them.

Start off with a good hook.

If you’re pressed for ideas, try asking a question, using humor, or make a statement that makes you curious, like “How you treat your employees is how you treat your customers.”

What? You’re still reading, aren’t you?

On the flip side, don’t “bury your lede,” as they say in journalism. Put your most important information—what you really need employees to know—at the beginning of your piece, preferably within the first couple of sentences.

Remember, your readers can stop reading at any time.

5. Just Write

Okay, we’re off to a good start, so now what?

Follow your outline!

Go point by point, filling each section in with the information you want to get across. Don’t worry too much about how good it is, and don’t start editing as you go.

Remember, you will have time to edit it later. For now, just concentrate on creating content.

That being said, keep these things in mind to make that editing step a little less work:

  • Be as specific as possible. If you are writing about an event employees need to attend, write the date and exact location. Be wary of using pronouns without explaining who “he” or “she” is. If there’s a deadline approaching, don’t say, “I need this ASAP,” when you really need it by Monday at 9AM. You get the idea.
  • Stay focused. Remember your purpose in writing this piece. Try to stick to one point at a time, and try to catch yourself when you start to go off on a tangent, or you’ll have to do some major cutting back later.
  • Keep it simple. While they might give you an edge in Scrabble, obscure words distract from your message, especially if your readers don’t know what they mean. Stick to clear, familiar words and readers will be able to follow along much more smoothly.

6. Make It Easy-to-Read

Remember how readers can stop at any time—and many do?

Make it easier for them to stick with it.

Write content that’s easily scannable.  How?

  • Break it up with white space. Long, drawn-out paragraphs can look overwhelming to a reader. Give them some room to breathe by writing shorter paragraphs that keep them moving right along.
  • Use bullet points. Like white space, bullet points provide a nice break for your readers, and they’re really easy to scan through. Plus, they’re a helpful tool for organizing information.
  • Format wisely. Italics and bold can be very helpful for drawing your readers’ eyes to keywords or important concepts. Just use it sparingly. If you bold and italicize everything, it kind of loses the effect.

 7. Give Them Closure

The end is in sight!

Wrap things up neatly so the piece feels complete. You can do this by briefly touching on some of your earlier points, but please don’t rehash everything you’ve already said. Your employees get what you’re trying to say by now.

Even better, incorporate a call to action. Be specific and tell employees what you would like them to do in response: fill out out a survey, give feedback to a question, etc.

Even if you’re writing an informative piece, give them something to leave with that they can do.

8. Just Walk Away

If you’re on a time crunch, you may feel the need to skip this step. That’s your call.

But taking a break gives you a chance to rest and think about something else.

And when you come back?

You’ll get to look at your piece with fresh eyes. And fresh eyes are a lot more likely to catch poor words choices and weird sentences structure than tired ones are.

Not that you have to be unproductive. Respond to some emails, work on another project you have, make a phone call, etc.

9. Illustrate It

Speaking of things you could do while waiting. . . .

Why not track down some helpful visuals? I know that you’d technically still be working on the piece I just told you to leave alone, but I think we can make an exception here.

I mean, since you’re not doing any writing.

Not all pieces may need images, but visuals can help break up text or clarify a point you’re trying to make.

Look for relevant images on free stock photo sites, or if your company already images they want you to use, track them down in the company file system. Always be sure to give attribution where it’s needed.

Bonus: While you’re browsing, download any images you might find helpful in the future and set them aside in a folder for easy reference.

Done already? Well, then it’s probably time to take another look at your post.

10. Clean it up!

Welcome back.

Whether you’ve taken a break or not, you need to finish what you’ve started and fix this piece up.

If you can, get someone else to give you feedback—they might catch something you’d miss.

Here’s what you both need to look out for:

  • Spelling/grammar errors. They’re not pretty, and they’re not professional. And don’t rely too much on spell check, which won’t catch mixups of words like they’re, their, and there.
  • Extra words. Be especially careful of that, which is a common filler word, and cut out anything that clutters up your sentences, like overused adjectives and adverbs (think literally, basically, etc.)
  • Confusing sentences. Do you have any sentences that aren’t very clear or that just sound . . . off? Even if you can’t figure out why something doesn’t sound right, it probably wouldn’t hurt to rewrite it—if it feels weird to you, it will probably feel weird to your employees, too.
  • Structural problems. Do all your points follow logically? Do you need to add sections or cut something out? Address this before you start fixing any other content problems, so you don’t waste time rewriting sentences for a section you’re just going to cut.

And if you’re worried about clarity, you can always run your piece through an app that calculates readability, like Hemingway.

11. Give It a Title

Wait, didn’t we already do that?

If you created a title during the outline stage, great. I hope it helped you focus on the focus of your piece.

The important thing to ask now is, does this title still work?

When you rewrite a piece, you often cut points and rearrange sections, and sometimes when you’re all done, you find yourself looking at something totally different than what you were planning on.

And the title has to adapt.

But how do you create a good title? Here are some ideas:

  • Use numbers. Everyone likes a good list, and your readers will know exactly what to expect going in, because numbers make things specific. Just compare “Tips for Making a Better Pizza,” with “13 Tips for Making a Better Pizza.” Which would you click on?
  • Use words that draw you in. Descriptive adjectives and nouns create a picture or feeling for readers, while words like “secrets” or “hints” promise valuable information they’ve never heard before. Provocative statements or the use of negatives like “no one” or “never” can pique curiosity as well.
  • Keep it short. This is especially good to keep in mind if you’re posting your piece in an online context, where an extra long title might get cut off at the end. But you’re also trying to get and keep your reader’s attention, and a short title gets right to point—exactly what you want.

12. Check it over

This is the last pass.

Make it a good one.

You’ve already done all the major editing and rewriting, so now you need to do one last proofread. Again, it’s always good to have a second set of eyes go over your work, but you can do this yourself, too.

The one trick I would suggest?

Read your piece backwards. Not word for word, of course—that wouldn’t make any sense.

Go back through your work line by line, starting from the end. Sometimes when you read in order, you fill in gaps or slide over mistakes automatically, meaning those errors slip right by.

Reading out of order takes a little more time—which means you’ll be reading a little more carefully.

Bye-bye mistakes.

Work Ahead

You may have finished your work for now, but don’t think you’re done.

Part of creating good content—especially if you want to do it quickly—is being prepared.

Keep talking with employees and listening to what they think and feel. Create a running document of ideas to use when you write more content. Cultivate a folder of images and diagrams you can use to illustrate your points.

Always be adding to your stash, and you’ll save your future self a lot of time and stress.

Way to be ahead of the game.

What’s your process for creating solid content? What’s your biggest hurdle for creating content? I’d love to hear your thoughts!