As part of my rather broad work in writing, I’m often asked for policy statements or alerts. In an effort to communicate completely about a policy, I like to concentrate on the ABCDs of performance objectives (interlaced with the 5Ws and the H from newswriting interviews):
- A is for Audience: Who is required to perform a task or comply with a new rule?
- B is for Behavior: What skill, task, or operation is required?
- C is for Conditions: How are tools involved in performing the task or complying with the rule? Are there prerequisite procedures that must already be completed in advance? Are there certain deliverables, inputs, or variables that need to be given?
- D is for Degree: Why, Where, and When is it critical? What are the measurable constraints (in time, place, budget) that determine whether the behavior is successful? Is there a minimum and/or recommended criteria? What resulting benefits and consequences may be persuasive motivating factors?
I come from an instructional design background. There, the standard ABCDs of instructional and performance objectives are used to design lessons and identify the criteria for testing whether a student actually learned the new skill. It’s based on the work of Mager, Gagné & Briggs.
The ABCD formula works in everything — from basic math drills to complex software troubleshooting labwork to sales techniques to regulatory compliance training. But it may not be obvious that the performance objective typically comes from an organizational need. The objectives are measured so that the people in one stage (such as a Kindergarten class or a network engineering division or a marketing team or a safety inspector) do their jobs well enough for the rest of the organization to take it from there and fulfill expectations.
But I’d like to take it one step further:
- E is for Exceptions: Are there exceptions to the rule? How do you know if a rule or issue does not apply to you, or that you are outside its scope? Are there special situations that may apply, and if so, how do you proceed?
Understanding exceptions takes a level of expertise that may not always be available when writing policy or alerts. But if you can nail that down, it’s one way to set your communications apart and be truly helpful to your readers.