It is easy to write through our own prism of understanding and experiences. However, as PIOs we are often communicating with a wide range of audiences. Audiences that have very different opinions and experiences of your services. This makes it difficult to communicate with the right tone for every audience every time. 

Understanding your audience is key and taking the time to learn more about the appropriate use of language will go a long way to ensure you don’t alienate people unwittingly. It is often small unintentional missteps in language that can lead to slow burn crisis issues that grow before your eyes.

Words matter and so does the way you use those words. So how can you be sure your communication strategy is fit for purpose when it comes to serving your community? 

Ask for feedback from allies and advocates

Your community is who you are communicating with, so you need to consult with them on how you communicate with them. Find your allies and ask for their feedback on anything you are wanting to publicize in the community. They may see red flags that you aren’t even aware of and so it pays dividends to take the time to look for this vital information. Not only could you save the potential issue of having a comms crisis, but it would also save you money and resources in the long run.

Educate yourself on different perspectives

There are many resources available online that are written by various groups and people who can offer insight on the most appropriate way to communicate. We’ve listed many of these resources below. Take the time to read these guides to be sure you understand cultural nuances and perspectives when it comes to writing copy or content for your site or social media channels. Public consultation is challenging yet incredibly valuable so be sure to get it as right as you can from the start.

Talk to people in your organization

Looking inwards as well as outwards will really help you to get your messaging right. Be open about what you are trying to achieve and see if anyone within your organization can provide you with insight that you might not have previously considered. Not only is this good relations externally, but your internal employee relations will be strengthened through considerered approaches. It may be a more casual ‘favor to ask’ email or you could find significant insight by consulting with a particular employee support network or  group that is a part of your organization. 

Here’s a list of resources to help you use the right language with your audiences and communities.

Race and Ethnicity
  • The Asian American Journalists Association has published a guide to covering Asian America.
  • The National Association of Black Journalists has a style guide on terms and language related to Black American history, culture, and current issues.
  • The National Association of Hispanic Journalists publishes a downloadable Cultural Competence Handbook that aims to help journalists and others “develop a working vocabulary related to diversity issues, avoiding stereotypes.”
  • The Native American Journalists Association maintains numerous reporting guides on specific topics relevant to reporting on Indigenous communities.
  • The University of British Columbia offers language guidelines on writing about Indigenous peoples.
Gender and Sexuality
Style Guides That Address Multiple Dimensions of Diversity
Health, Disability, Addiction, and Ageing
Trauma and incarceration
  • The Marshall Project offers a guide for writing about covering people who are and have been incarcerated. 

May 23, 2022

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