According to communications expert TJ Larkin, there are eight simple steps safety professionals can take to drastically improve their safety communications.
Larkin spoke at the 2014 Enform Petroleum Safety Conference in Banff, Alta., in May, and claimed if safety professionals do these eight things, they can improve reader understanding by up to 600 per cent.
• Stop trying to sound smart: Many people use big words and convoluted sentences when their message could be told in a much simpler way. People who are trying to sound smart and are trying to intimidate people often use poor communication like this, said Larkin. It’s best to stick with words and sentence structures that are simple and clear.
• Line length: The optimal line length for text is 3.5 inches. Eye tracking research has shown this is the perfect line length for high comprehension and high ease of reading, said Larkin.
• Font: You should only have two fonts on your computer: Verdana and Georgia. Nine-nine per cent of communications should be done in Verdana and one per cent should be Georgia, said Larkin.
So why do you need Georgia at all? Georgia has higher credibility than Verdana because it is a serif font, which is used in textbooks so the brain views that font as higher credibility.
“You only need Georgia when people might not believe what you’re talking about,” said Larkin.
• Avoid all caps: If you use upper and lower case letters, the word has a shape and the human eye will be able to determine the word based on that shape. If you use all caps, there is no top, no bottom and it’s hard for the eyes to read, said Larkin.
• Avoid bold: It is difficult for the eye to read text that is all bold, so while it can be used every now and then to highlight a word, it should be used sparsely.
• Complexity - Grade level 8: The average adult reads at a Grade 8 level. A work procedure is typically written at a Grade 15 level, but only 10 per cent of the readers can understand it. You can monitor the grade level of your documents by enabling “readability statistics” in Microsoft Word.
• Graphics increase comprehension: Recall and comprehension of text goes up 200 per cent when you show an image, said Larkin. Research has shown when people see an object, they not only remember the picture but they also remember the text because the reference for the text is stored with the image of the objects.
This means safety professionals need to start putting more objects in their communication, emails, policies and procedures so workers will remember the text, said Larkin.
• Dot points: “Stop writing paragraphs; paragraphs are dead,” said Larkin. Only 20 per cent of typical readers will finish an entire paragraph. This increases to 50 per cent if the paragraph is broken into dot points.
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