Posts tagged ‘writing’

December 17, 2019

George Orwell’s 6 Rules for More Effective Writing

Successful fundraising professionals must be effective communicators. In part, that means we are required to be skilled writers whether we’re creating a case for support, a direct mail appeal, annual report, heart-felt thank you, or other document. Fortunately, we can still learn some powerful writing tips from a legendary author.

George Orwell published his now-classic novel Nineteen Eighty-four 70 years ago. In addition to his many works of fiction, he also wrote a number of non-fiction essays including Politics and the English Language. This composition explores the general demise of writing quality and looks at how language has been twisted for political advantage. It remains relevant today.

As Orwell states:

A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble.”

You or I may never rise to the level of an Orwell, but we can take a number of steps to improve our written communications. By doing so, we will ensure that readers understand what we say. Furthermore, our words will have the greater emotional effect we desire. While many grammar and technical rules exist, and are certainly worth studying, Orwell outlines six simple rules for better writing:

1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

Failing to follow this rule leads to two problems. First, relying on clichés minimizes the effect of the message. If people have heard something many times before, they will likely find the message dull. Second, using clichés can render a message nearly meaningless or even misleading.

By keeping your writing fresh and original, your message will stand a better chance of cutting through the clutter of messages. This will help your written words resonate with readers and inspire them.

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

Some people might think that using big words will demonstrate how smart they are. However, using the shortest words possible will ensure that more people understand what you are trying to say. Using shorter, simpler words will indicate, to those who know better, that you are a skilled writer.

To ensure that readers understand your messages, keep your word choices simple. Even when writing to an educated reader, keep it simple.

3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

Choosing simple words is not enough. You also need to string those words together in short sentences. Your goal should be to write at a sixth-grade reading level.

Even those at a college reading level will find it easier to read and understand text that uses short words and short sentences. As you edit your text, think of how you can eliminate unnecessary words.

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January 10, 2017

Here is One Word You Should Stop Using

Would you like to be a better writer?

Would you like to be a more effective public speaker?

Would you like to engage donors in conversations that are more meaningful?

I have some good news for you. Being a more successful communicator is easier than you think. Here is just one simple thing you can do immediately:

Stop using the word “very.”

A few weeks ago, Greta Vaitkeviciute, Advertising Manager at Altechna, shared the following terrific graphic on LinkedIn:

words-to-use-instead-of-very-via-greta-vaitkeviciute

Reviewing the graphic reminded me of a conversation I had with my editor when I was writing my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing.

I confess that I was a frequent user of the word very. My editor called me on my lazy writing habit, and pointed out that very is a modifier that does not truly enhance the text. She went on to strike virtually all uses of the word from my draft manuscript. With some effort, I began to make the necessary edits. Soon, dropping very became second nature, much to the relief of my editor. I still included very in my book a number of times for tone and style. However, I used the modifier far less than I would have otherwise. As a result, my writing was much stronger, and I was able to communicate more effectively with my readers.

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