Getting Guy’s ‘good’ guide to ‘great’

Written by Simon Grover

This new route map through the pensions/Covid jungle has lessons for everyone on how to write something not just good, but great.


Everyone loves a new pensions publication, and there’s a lot to quicken the pulse about the one just out from the Dept of Work and Pensions and 6 big UK pensions bodies – Covid-19 and your pension: where to get help.

It looks friendly, it’s well written, and it has some useful information, clearly explained. And it has authority, authored as it is by a pensions partnership of big hitters, from the Pensions Ombudsman to the Pensions Regulator, with a warm-up by minister Guy Opperman.

The guide covers a hugely important subject that many people are concerned about. So it’s worth looking at how it could be even better, just in case the producers are plotting a sequel. And, perhaps more usefully, there are some lessons we can learn from it about how to make all our communications even more fun than they already are.

  1. Be clear what your communication is about

Experts in any field often pack their communications with lots of information about, well, everything. The guide’s title and the first two sentences of the minister’s foreword seem to say this is the place to come if you want help on how Covid-19 will “affect my pension and retirement plans”. Great. But Guy then says the guide outlines “the measures taken across the industry to support savers”. That’s fine, but it’s moving away from the idea of me and my pension.

Even more distant is the minister’s hope that “this guide will enable readers to familiarise themselves with these [6 pension] bodies”. That’s a pretty niche interest, and a sign that someone has got confused about what the message is. It’s starting to feel like Guy’s boss might have had a hand in this. Any communication is likely to be more effective if you focus it on just one idea.

  1. Build it around your reader’s world, not yours

You might expect the guide’s contents page to be a list of the worries that you can read about. But instead, it’s a list of the contributing pension bodies. This suggests that the guide is, in fact, mostly about those 6 bodies and what they do. And indeed when you start reading, you find that the guide is mostly about those 6 bodies and what they do. It’s not about answers to questions you might have.

That’s happened because each body has contributed its own chapter. Each chapter has useful information in it but the guide is not structured in a way that makes it easy for the reader to find that information. What we have here is a guide to pension bodies, instead of a guide to questions about your pension in the Covid crisis. If you want your words to be read, you need to organise them around what your reader wants, not what’s easiest for you.

  1. Say things once, in one place

Sometimes my life feels like an endless cycle of asking people to stop repeating themselves. There is a lot of repetition in this guide. All good things, but it’s easier for the reader if we just say it once. 2 of the contributing bodies talk about not rushing decisions. 3 of them talk about scams – 2 with exactly the same list of 4 warnings. And everyone signposts to guidance that is similar, but slightly different, from everyone else. Writing like this can confuse or even annoy your reader and make it harder for them to find what they need. Save ink.

  1. Answer real-life questions

FAQs are great, but make sure yours really are frequently asked. Several of the contributors to the guide offer FAQs. But a lot of these are not questions that many people would be looking in this guide for. One of the FSCS’s puzzlers is ‘Are claims still being processed in the usual timeframes?’ While the PPF deals with that hot potato: ‘How can I prove I’m still in education so I can continue to receive my survivor benefit when my school is unable to sign the continual education form?’

These questions are, I would argue, rather too particular for this guide. We’ve put together some of the top questions people are asking right now about the effect of Covid on their pension. You’re welcome to use them.

  1. Keep it short

Rare is the pleasure of something about pensions that takes less than 5 minutes to read. This guide is 29 pages long. For most people, that’s going to look like hard work. As a result, they’re less likely to read it. That’s a shame, because it’s well written when you get into it.

It actually doesn’t need to be that many pages. The font size is surprisingly big and there are lots of graphics that aren’t really adding anything. If you also followed the suggestions above, you might get it down to 10 pages. You could probably give the main points in just 2 or 3. A lot more people would read something that length. If you have more to say, give links to further info. The pensions industry always has more to say (just because we love pensions so much). Which is why this is probably a good point for me to stop.


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