There’s a scene in the critically acclaimed television drama The West Wing where US president Jed Bartlet is working on a toast for his wife’s birthday. In response to seeing his boss struggle to find the rights words, personal aide Charlie Young suggests that the president simply keep it short.


“In my family, anyone who uses one word where they could have used ten just isn’t trying hard enough,” Bartlet retorted.


As brilliant and inspiring as the fictional president was, his assertion in this instance, while funny, doesn’t apply when trying to create effective workplace policy.


Coming from a legal background, I have often felt the urge to show off a breadth of vocabulary not befitting of my age or experience. I’m a competitive, perfectionist type, and writing in a style that appears academic or highbrow to appear impressive is something I’ve been guilty of in years past. Perhaps, to an extent, I still am.


What I’ve come to realise, however, is that consumers of content value brevity. This truism applies across the board, whether it be sociocultural platforms such as podcast and newspaper, through to the professional sphere, via the delivery of research reports or internal emails.


Workplace policies are no different.


Writing effective policies will clearly define the direction and purpose of practices and procedures within workplaces. Such clarity is of fundamentally important so staff can better understand and appreciate both their rights and responsibilities while at work.


Facilitating such an environment for staff requires good policy. Here are a few tips for drafting such documentation:


  • Keep it short. Attention spans are shorter in this modern, technologically dependent age in which we live. Large swaths of text turn people off and reduce their desire to engage properly. Just consider what your reaction is when faced with terms and conditions sections when making an online purchase or iTunes update. 
  • Use clear, simple language. People are much more likely to appreciate and abide by prescribed policies if they understand them. Ensure the writing of any documentation is accessible and relatable in its wording.
  • Ensure consistency and alignment across the board. Where multiple policies are required, they should be synced to ensure better understanding and appreciation by those reading them, and also avoiding conflict. Inconsistency from one policy to another can give rise to internal disagreement or even legal issues.
  • Identify the reason for such policies. There must be a defined purpose and objective to each policy implemented. Whether it be addressing existing concerns or prescribing appropriate conduct, policies should facilitate a more productive and collegiate workplace.
  • Empower, rather than limit, those affected by the policy. Where applicable, policies should offer options to those reading them. Being unnecessarily restrictive may limit overall usefulness.

Keep your policy writing concise, clear and directed. Because you’re only ever as good as the message you’re able to communicate.


By Jerome Doraisamy