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HR Magazine: Write On!

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HR Magazine, July 2001Vol. 46, No. 7

Packaging Your Policies

Follow these tips for writing a clear and concise employee handbook.

  • Use short words, sentences and paragraphs.
  • Break the copy into short, readable segments.
  • Avoid stilted, overly formal language.
  • Avoid buzzwords, jargon and acronyms.
  • Highlight important information with bullet points or bold print.
  • Prefer the active voice. The company supplies your safety glasses is more robust and concise than the same sentence in the passive voice: Your safety glasses will be supplied by the company.
  • Don’t be afraid to use contractions and personal pronouns.
  • Use concise rather than wordy phrases: for example, during instead of during the course of.
  • Avoid redundancies such as new innovations, advance plan and actual experience.
  • When applicable, write in the imperative. It’s clear, concise and effective: Submit your expense reports weekly. Wear your badge at all times.
  • Be consistent. If you begin addressing employees as “you,” continue it throughout the handbook. If you capitalize one department name, do so for each department.
  • Be selective in your choice of words, particularly when discussing consequences. Don’t say “will” when you actually mean “may.”
  • Don’t equivocate or diminish unpopular policies. Be straightforward and tell it like it is.
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