Cutting your way through the tangle of today’s compliance regulations is like hacking a path through a jungle. Finding your way is challenging, but we’ve developed a route that can lead you to success.
Last week we listed key features of successful compliance documentation for you to keep in mind when evaluating your documents. This week, the discussion continues as we introduce the first in a series of 6 Steps to Better Compliance Documentation.
Step 1: Understand the Needs of Your Audience(s)
“One size fits all” is great for baseball caps, but it usually doesn’t work for compliance documents. Your compliance documentation can—and probably will—fail if you insist on writing it using a “one size fits all” approach that doesn’t take into account the needs of different audiences. If your goal is to create clear, effective documentation, “one size fits all” can be a very bad idea.
One document, multiple audiences, different needs
For example, let’s say you’re developing procedures for emergency evacuation of a manufacturing facility. The document you’re writing will be used by
- security personnel,
- plant supervisors,
- executive management,
- auditors, including internal audit as well as federal, state and municipal regulators.
Each of these audiences will read your document with its own needs in mind. Each audience will be looking for different information, at different levels of detail. If you’ve presented the information in ways that mix it all together, the result is likely to be confusion, frustration, errors—and non-conformances.
Make sure you can answer these questions when writing for multiple audiences
When you’re writing a document for use by multiple audiences, think about ways you can organize your information to help them skip what isn’t relevant to them and quickly locate the information they need. Before you begin writing, make sure you know the answers to these questions:
- Who are my audiences?
- What does each audience expect to find in this document?
- Who needs to do what?
- What do they need to know in order to do it?
It’s not always easy to understand the viewpoints and needs of different audiences, but if you take the time to find answers to these basic questions, the result will be a much better document.