Clear Writing for Schools: Communicating with your Student Body

I’ve attended several post-secondary institutions. All were wonderful places, run by motivated, caring administrators, but most failed at providing information. To clarify, they failed at providing student-centric information. Many schools suffer the same problem.

The Problem Before a term starts, students receive numerous emails and letters containing time-sensitive information about registration, payment, accommodations and course materials. They also receive social and extra-curricular news. Typically, there are so many messages that it’s easy to miss an important item. The following is common:

  • Students receive many emails, often from different departments.
  • The ‘from’ line is uninformative; often just someone’s name.
  • Subject lines are not clear or descriptive. (More on clear subject lines)
  • Low- and high-priority information is treated the same.
  • Instructions are often unclear if you’re not familiar with the process.

There is an important, but often overlooked difference between students and administrators. Staff know their systems and processes well; it’s their job and they may have been doing it for years. Students, however, are usually newer to a school, and the system and processes are only tangential to their main focus, which is learning.

Institutions can ensure that messages will be read, instructions followed, and tuition paid on time by ensuring that their communication is clear, useful, and brief.

8 Easy Solutions for Administrators Write and speak from your audience’s point of view:

  1. Decrease the number of emails sent by grouping information items. Keep each item brief.
  2. Package information by department or topic. That way students can read the emails from Finance and ignore the ones about pub nights, or vice versa.
  3. Include one overview document that describes the contents. Call it Start Here or something that encourages recipients to read it first.
  4. Use clear headings.
  5. Present items in order of importance.
  6. Use lists and step-by-step instructions.
  7. Ensure all items clearly state what they want the reader to do or know as a result of having read it.
  8. Test, test, and test again. Ask new students if they know what to do as a result of receiving the information. Can they tell what’s important and what’s not? Do they understand any deadlines and penalties?

Communication is a vital aspect of an institution’s operations. Clear, concise communication with students will reduce errors and non-compliance, while saving the staff’s patience and sanity.

 

Lucinda

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Lucinda Atwood is a coach, speaker and author who helps clients build expertise and confidence in their speaking and leadership skills.
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