EPA Communications Stylebook: Training and Education
Last revised 2009
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Most of us have heard recent EPA Administrators say that we should move away from one-size-fits-all regulation, to more targeted regulatory work that fits specific industries or population segments. That same idea applies to learning about communications. Every person in the world needs to communicate, but professional communications is distinct from that of everyday life. Equally, having a general understanding of professional communications is important for managers, but is vastly different from the type of skill that is needed to create successful communications materials. One size of training does not fit all.
It is the policy of EPA that our staff should have and develop good communications skills. While the importance of such skill-building cannot be overstated, neither can the importance of targeting that growth in a way that is appropriate to specific needs and jobs. A basic writing or introductory public speaking course might help any of us. Most professional communicators have already had that level of education, so their development should have a different focus from that of other, more occasional communicators.
Staff who manage contracts for communications work will do well both in building their skills as a Project Officers and learning design or production. A range of other studies can be as useful as learning writing or design.
- Audience analysis and targeting depends on disciplines such as demographics and statistics.
- Media selection entails geography reach people where they are is an axiom of marketing. To do that, you need detailed knowledge of where the where is.
- Marketing, itself, is highly important. It is mainly strategic communication oriented to action.
- Probably no industry depends more than communications on having very strong computer skills.
All of us should be open-minded to such possibilities, making the right choices for ourselves, and for those we might supervise. Full-time professional communicators at EPA Communications and Public Affairs Directors, Product Review Officers, Web Content Managers and others should take responsibility for helping each other and relevant staff to find the right opportunities for such training. All supervisory, managerial and executive staff should consider it a duty to foster such development including for themselves. Few EPA programs can be well managed without good public communications as a cornerstone.
Education and training does not require a classroom or on-line course. It is still possible to learn something useful just through independent reading. It might not be as targeted or well directed, but it is cheap, reliable and does not require you to complete any paperwork. Peer consultation can help you target and direct your education.
The information below is meant to be basic, not comprehensive. No matter where you work in EPA, once you get past the basics, you should consult with communications professionals and management about the types of educational opportunities that are best. Remember that basic means different things for different needs and jobs. What is basic for a full-time communicator is probably quite advanced for someone who has just occasional involvement in the work. Whether it is in communication, or any other area of training, you should develop a real program that suits you, your job needs, those of your office and the future of all.
Basic writing courses are not always basic to all writing. A course titled Basic Business Writing is probably oriented to your learning how to compose memoranda. Important, but not usually a key to mass media effectiveness. Basic Technical Writing might sound ideal for many aspects of EPA communication, but that will depend on whether the course teaches how to do technical writing, or how to work with technical writing to make it comprehensible to non-technical audiences. You, in turn, will need to decide which if either will serve your program. By analogy, the above ideas apply to design, too.
In any case, true basic writing and design courses are available through the USDA Graduate School. Other good basic writing and communications courses are taught at almost all community colleges.
Courses that have titles like Writing for Mass Media need to be scrutinized carefully. Many are basic journalism courses. Journalistic style serves many EPA needs, but it is not particularly oriented to motivating action. If you want people to learn, this is good, but if you want them to act, that is another matter. A style of communication that is more oriented to marketing is probably not a basic course in any event. Effective advertising and promotional style takes a while to learn, and most important takes even longer to learn in a way that is suitable to the subject matter of EPA.
Courses generally titled Crisis Communication and Risk Communication are useful and in some ways basic to some EPA communications needs, but note the word some . Yes, crisis and risk scenarios are core to EPA, but the principles of those communication styles are not applicable to all facets of our work.
For most EPA managers, or Project Officers who manage communications projects or contracts, it is as important to be grounded in the basics of marketing as in the basics of creating actual communications materials. Your orientation from that perspective will not be in directing writers and designers in how to write and design, but rather in directing them to achieve a marketing goal motivating action by the public. Comment in detail on a proposed regulation. Get involved in a watershed planning committee, or local emergency planning committee. Buy and use safer, greener products. In every case you want a deliverable that delivers results. The Direct Marketing Association of America provides basic and advanced studies that are oriented to such communications.
There are some specialized courses that are nonetheless basic. For example, once you have learned the technical aspects of using certain software, such as PowerPoint, or In Design, learning how to use them as effective communications formats is still down the road a bit. Similarly, there are courses in basic screen writing and promotional writing. They are advanced in the sense that they are not just general writing principles, but introductory courses in those areas can help a grounded writer know some basic techniques for certain specific media and formats.
Finally, in Appendix A of this Stylebook, you will see the bibliography of materials which we use in the communications offices of EPA. They are the basic text and on-line resources that are used, and are useful, every day for most of our Agency communications.
In recent years, EPA has gradually reduced the amount of in-house pre-production work that it does, except for Web and computer-based communications. Most pre-production and production work now is done under contract, but there is still significant in-house work done through desktop publishing software. The more often used formats are discussed in various sections of this manual, but even if you are contracting with a commercial supplier, understanding production is still important. You should rely on full-time experts within the Agency to guide you to get the most cost-efficient, cost-effective work, but ultimately the project officer is responsible for the work, so understanding the mechanics and technology of video, print, exhibit and promotional production is crucial.