Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Weekly writing coach: Fired up about fact sheets

Sure, it makes sense to issue a fact sheet in the wake of a major disaster. That's what happened in Boulder, Colorado, after the recent fires. Issued by Boulder Downtown, How You or Your Business Can Help with the Fourmile Fire lists contact information, dates and details on how to make donations, where safe but evacuated people can report themselves, and other updates relevant to citizens and area businesses on one web site (including a fundraising effort based around the poster shown at left). It's a great, straightforward example of the form.

But you don't need an emergency on your hands to make use of a fact sheet as a communications tool. Instead of struggling for analogies and graceful leads, perhaps what your audience needs is just the facts.  I think many a news announcement would be better served by a fact sheet or two with a cover explanatory note, and any data-laden announcement would benefit from the form.  Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
  • Brevity's a must.  Please don't innovate a seven-page fact sheet. Keep it one page or less. If you have enough for more, consider separate fact sheets on separate sub-topics, and one overall fact sheet. Then let the users choose the ones they need.
  • Consider the user.  Fact sheets for reporters and those for the public may not need the same organizational structure--and they may need more background.  Rather than go all-purpose--and vague--think about whether you need different fact sheets for different audiences.
  • Use microcontent to make them work at-a-glance.  Bullets, strategic use of bold type and subheadings, rather than paragraphs, make a fact sheet easy to use and use again.
  • Cut out the flowery language.  No quotes, no spin, no congratulations. Just numbers, names, dates and information, please.
Some additional good examples of fact sheets include:
  • A fact sheet about Washington, DC, for travel and tourism professionals, part of "DC in a Box" from Destination DC.  There's just the right amount of data, allowing users to be able to tell tour groups which are the most-visited museums and attractions, for example.
  • A White House fact sheet about the early retiree reinsurance program offers a short opening paragraph, then sections off the fact sheet with the basics on who would be covered, what's included, effective dates and statistics driving the creation of this new program.
If you've got a good example of a communications fact sheet that worked well for you, please share it and your experience in the comments.

(A hat tip to In Case of Emergency, Read Blog, which alerted me to this good example.  Go here to buy the "Thank you Firefighters" poster.)

Related post: When to skip the storytelling: 5 ways (including fact sheets)

I offer communications and social media strategy consultation; content development; and training in public speaking, social media and related skills--and I welcome your referrals, at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

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