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Useful policies are short

If you take the time to prepare a policy or procedure,then you may as well make it accessible to people, right?

Online access and policiesI just read a blog post discussing how the average internet user could spend 76 business days a year reading privacy policies that affect them. 76 days!

That is based on the average policy having 2,514 words. Which is a lot of words for a policy that basically needs to say ‘we will only give your information to Fred under these circumstances’.

And it is an average. Some places have very short privacy policies (for example, if you subscribe to my newsletter you will see a 34 word policy!) so that must mean other places have extremely long policies.

So next time you write or update a policy, keep it as short as possible by

  1. using simple words as much as possible so it is easy to understand
  2. avoiding legalese so it makes sense to everyone and doesn’t look intimidating
  3. think about your reader – what do they want to know and expect to see?
  4. use an active voice as it is generally shorter than a passive version of the same sentence
  5. use bullet points and sub-headings to organise the policy – this is easier to read, often means less repetition is necessary and sentences don’t need to be so complex.

Legally, you may be covered by providing a policy even if people don’t bother reading it (how often do you read the policies you agree to online?) but I wouldn’t be comfortable with including unexpected details that could hurt people later. That is, the legal issue is not always the moral one so I prefer policies people are more likely to read.

As a business owner, do you just want to protect yourself or do you want people to properly understand your policies?

8 Responses to Useful policies are short

  • onlinebusinessgal says:

    As a business owner, I like to have policies that are short and to the point. I see a lot of policies that ramble on without really saying much. Some repeat the same material over and over again. These are the policies that I fear people often do not read. It is also important to create policies that are written in a format that is easy for people to understand.

    • tashword says:

      Thanks for your always supportive comments, onlinebusinessgal. I think having long, unreadable policies is preventing people reading them and making informed decisions – doing that deliberately is just wrong and somewhat pretentious and dishonest.

      • onlinebusinessgal says:

        It does make it difficult for people to make an informed decision about whether or not to accept a blog or website’s TOS if the policies are long winded rather than being short and to the point. I think people often just skim policies when they are very long and could miss something of importance.

      • tashword says:

        Yes, very easy to miss the important bits amongst all the unnecessary words 🙂

  • anotherspaceman says:

    Well I enjoyed your brief policy. And although I knew many provided lengthier ones, it’s nice to see just how many words I didn’t have to read in this instance!
    I think what’s essential and should be encouraged is better overviews of policies. Then if more detail is needed, it can be found.
    As is often the case, details get drowned in irrelevancies.
    Not that I’m suggesting there’s anything underhand to some company’s policies.

    • tashword says:

      Glad you enjoyed it, anotherspaceman!

      Whilst it is possible some long policies are a deliberate ploy to reduce people reading their policies, I think most people just don’t think about the impact of making it longer or think they are more protected if they include more qualifications and impressive words.

  • Anna T says:

    Oh absolutely! I never, ever read long, drawn-out blog policies. I much prefer short and sweet. It’s best to get right to the point rather than add in all the legal speak that no one even understands.

    • tashword says:

      Long policies for something like a blog are probably even worse than long policies in general – people go to blogs as a quick source of information not to read long-winded policies.

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