Improving government communication with Smart Brevity
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Improving government communication with Smart Brevity

July 9, 2024
Kaitlin Wheeler

In the second event of our 2024 Federal Communications Series, Phil Dufresne, senior editor at Axios HQ, delivered a one-hour workshop on how federal communicators can incorporate Smart Brevity into their content. 

Smart Brevity is a methodology developed by Axios’ Jim VandeHei, a member of the Partnership board, and Mike Allen and Roy Schwartz. Rooted in brain science and data, this communication formula empowers communicators to create easily digestible and accurate information for diverse audiences. 

Why Smart Brevity? 

Communication in government is key. Agencies need to communicate clearly with those they serve and relay valuable information to employees so they can do their jobs well.  

However, both general readers and civil servants are overwhelmed by the amount of information they receive daily. In a cluttered and distracted world, it can be difficult to get people’s attention. 

During the workshop, Dufresne shared data from Gallup showing that around 70% of employees want shorter communications. Additionally, one-third of emails that require attention go unread, while only 5% of readers finish an 800-word article. 

This evidence suggests that readers rarely read more than a few paragraphs, have high expectations for how they engage with content and only want to know what is new and why it matters. 

Key takeaways from the workshop 

Smart Brevity is a great formula for making federal communications both memorable and concise. Consider the five tips below when crafting your own content. 

Consider the audience

One of the first things writers should consider is their audience. It’s important to recognize that readers want to receive information that is most relevant to them. Knowing your audience, what they care about and what information they already have is key. 

Simple and conversational

It’s also beneficial to write like you speak. Oftentimes, speech is more direct and clearer than writing. In the same vein, it’s important to write in a conversational and relatable tone. Simple words and phrases have more impact than complex ones. 

Memorable and scannable

To create successful communications, it’s crucial to make your text scannable, memorable and easy to understand. Aim for strong, specific headlines that are 10 words or less, that demand attention and that will keep the reader engaged. The opening of a piece of content—the lead —should be one sentence, sharp and straightforward, and tell your reader what’s new. 

Demonstrate significance

It’s important to tell your readers why a piece of information matters by providing context. Also, using axioms can point your reader to the most crucial details of your content and make your content more readable and approachable. Other style tips for highlighting important text include writing shorter paragraphs, using bullet points, bolding words and providing links. 

By using Smart Brevity, federal communicators can untangle complex communications, and disseminate critical information for the public and for federal employees.

This blog post was authored by Kaitlin Wheeler, a Communications intern at the Partnership for Public Service.

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