Writing Rules Without Shouting #2

Policies can be worded harshly or respectfully.

A example of a respectful policy statement is the following:

”Employees connect only company-owned technology to the corporate network.”

The statement is clear and succinct. It is written as a declarative sentence in the present tense, describing the way things are as a matter of course.

The rule as worded assumes that employees do what is necessary to put it into practice. It is predicated on the good faith of the people it is directed to, and on its face it does not sound oppressive or confrontational.

Contrast that with the more common heavy-handed wording in the next example:

”Employees must NEVER connect any of their own personal computers to the corporate network.”

The rule is no clearer in the second statement, but it sounds like the writer is shouting. The wording of this rule betrays the fact that something else is going on in this office.

We don’t know what that something else is. It could be that the company has experienced a compliance problem in the past. Alternatively, it’s possible that someone feels the need to make dictatorial pronouncements to reinforce the pecking order in the office. Or maybe employees are always asking for exemptions and the writer is tired of saying no each time. Someone is frustrated, or tired, or on a power trip, or all of those, and those emotions are reflected in the writing.

But is that the face of your organization that you want people to see? Shouldn’t a policy statement be emotionally neutral?

As we move towards increased openness and transparency, many organizations—especially government—are putting their policy documents out on the Internet for all to see. It might be wise before you do that to make sure that those documents will not inadvertently reveal your organization’s problems.


More Policy Writing Tips

For more information

You’ll find information on writing titles for policy instruments and many related topics in Respectful Policies and Directives, available at any bookstore.

Perfect Policies.org offers workshops that help you organize your policy instruments. Contact us for details.