https://civilservice.blog.gov.uk/2015/10/23/my-battle-with-bad-language/

My battle with bad language

Naomi Hill
Naomi Hill

Civil Service Learning (CSL) sends thousands of emails to civil servants who book classroom courses with us. In fact, in a typical month, over 13,500 course confirmations alone are sent to learners (and the same number to their managers). That’s a huge number of emails, so it’s important to get this right. If our communications are easy to understand it can have a big impact on our customers and help us achieve our goals as a learning provider.

Being more human

It’s fair to say that the content of our booking-related emails hadn’t been properly reviewed since CSL was set up in 2011. The emails were generated by our supplier’s IT system – and you could tell – a robot could have written them! They needed an overhaul, not just a few tweaks here and there.

The main area in need of attention was easily identified. The language needed to be more human, less corporate. In government, we can sometimes be guilty of using jargon and overcomplicating the message, and that was true here. We also needed to explain the importance and benefits of certain things, such as completing pre-learning for a course.

Two banners: left "Simpler"; right "Clearer"
Licence: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Ben Terrett

Getting feedback

First, we mapped out what we expect learners to do, identifying what emails they received and when. We asked a number of people, including learners, course trainers and a helpful team in the West London JobCentre Plus, for their feedback on the process and the information in the correspondence. And we worked closely with our supplier to understand the process and then make the necessary changes.

The result

So what have we done? We have re-written over 20 pieces of course correspondence to make them clear, informative and welcoming in tone. This included:

  • putting the important information upfront – we know everyone has limited time
  • making the next steps clear
  • explaining why things happen, like courses being cancelled, or why completing your pre-learning is important
  • removing unnecessary attachments – all the information is available in one click

We shared the new set of correspondence with a range of civil servants, who described it as informal, friendly, and helpful – which is great, because that’s what we were aiming for!

You’ll also notice other improvements, such as being able to save course details straight into your calendar after you’ve booked – another small step to make things easier.

If you’ve booked a CSL course recently, have you noticed these changes? If you would like to share your views with us, please leave a comment below.