Don’t get fancy on me

Word“Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say infinitely when you mean very; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.”
― C.S. Lewis

Love. This. Quote. It reminds of my favorite quote from Antoine de St-Exupery:

Perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

But–confession–I also love fancy words. I really, truly do. The way they sound. The way you feel when you discover them. The way the letters organize themselves into an unexpected result.

Pernicious for harmful.

Leitmotif for theme.

Gihugic for big. (Okay, you caught me. “Gihugic” isn’t really a word. I made it up. Or someone else did and I heard it and loved it. But isn’t it fun?!)

Fancy words delight me. But I don’t use them much when I write. That’s because fancy words aren’t a super good choice if you’re looking to connect with someone. They’re often a barrier. Rather than being dazzled by your intellect, the person on the receiving end risks being confused or dumb-founded. Neither of which moves your relationship along.

Bonus factoid: Did you know there is actually a Plain Language Law? That’s a real thing. Enacted in 2010, the law requires that federal agencies use “clear Government communication that the public can understand and use.”

Pretty sure fancy words aren’t encouraged by the Plain Language Law.

So loverize yourself silly using fancy words when you’re writing for yourself, or for other people who love fancy words, or when you’re looking to impress your boss with your vast linguistic repertoire (aka big vocabulary). Or when you want a word to pop out and surprise a reader. (Wordifier, anyone?) But make sure that fancy word is surrounded by plain language that is a snap to understand.

*****
Post Readability Stats: Reading Ease: 72, Grade Level: 5.3

**Want to learn more about finding the very best words to advance your mission? Sign up for Winter Quarter at Claxon University!**

 

Jargon: It’s More Prevalent Than You Think

67bd[This is the latest weekly post from our intern, Tessa. You can find all her posts here.

If you work for a 501(c)3 and you are not a private foundation, your nonprofit is deemed a public charity. By definition, that means you exist to serve the public. Yet, so often, you use language that is meaningless to people outside our organizations. It’s called jargon, and we’ve advised against it in the past.

What you may not know, however, is that jargon takes another dangerous form: pretentious and/or vague language. What if I told you words you use daily, words like community, impact and partnership, might be alienating the very people you’re trying to engage?

For example, say you tell someone that you are “serving the community”. You know exactly what community you’re serving. But an outsider would have no idea if you’re talking about the immediate neighborhood, the city, the county, or perhaps even another location all together.

If you’re unsure if you’re using jargon, just step back and ask yourself if someone who is not familiar with your organization would know what you mean. If the answer is no, find a more specific word. You can also check out this nonprofit Jargon Finder.

Remember, public charity workers:

“The repetitive, habitual use of insider lingo undermines the inherently public nature of the issues under discussion.” – Tony Proscio

What Twitter Taught Me About Writing

[This is the latest weekly post from our intern, Tessa. You can find all her posts here.Delete Button

Twitter has forced me to learn something valuable. Its 140 character per post rule has shown me that, more often that not, I’m using more words than I need to.

When Twitter isn’t monitoring what I type, sometimes I don’t even know I’m using too many words. And I’ve never been the verbose type. Those who have met me know that I won’t talk your ear off without some coaxing (or without some wine). I always struggled to meet minimum page number requirements in school. Yet, even I say much more than I need to.

Take, for example, this article I shared the other day via social media. I started by quoting the article and adding my own thoughts:

Nonprofits win awards for clear communications. Why? “If there’s any (common) thread, it’s they keep in mind the needs of the reader.”

Twitter wouldn’t let me say all that and include a link to the article and a shout out to the person shared the article with me. After some deliberation, I ended up with:

Nonprofit clear communication winners “…keep in mind the needs of the reader.”

So simple. So clear. Yet, it still conveys the same information. Remember, the clearer your message is, the more people will read and understand it.

Writing concisely is not easy. In fact, it’s very difficult for most people. As Mark Twain famously said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

The good news is, concise writing is a habit that can be learned. A good place to start is with your organization’s mission statement. Challenge yourself to say the same thing with 3 less words. Depending on your organization, you may be able to get to 5, 10, or even 15 less words! Also, look critically at the next thing you write for your organization. It could be anything – even an email. See how short you can make your message while still keeping the original meaning. You’ll notice you often eliminate the same filler words or sentences over and over. “I just wanted to let you know…” is a common culprit. Pretty soon, you won’t even try to type those extra words.

No matter how good you get, you’ll always need to stay conscious of the words you’re using. They’re what connects you to your audience. Make the most of them.

Check it Out: How to Make Your Writing Error-Free

[This is the latest weekly post from our intern, Tessa. You can find all her posts here.

Editing (improving your initial writing) and proofreading (final reviewing before publishing) require much more than finding grammar or spelling mistakes. You have to remember to pay attention to flow, keep a consistent voice, eliminate jargon, etc. It’s a lot to keep track of. Even the experienced writer can forget to check for everything when reviewing their (or others’) work.

Recently, I stumbled across some articles that offered such a simple solution that I was surprised I hadn’t though of it sooner…. The ever-handy checklist!

Check Mark

HubSpot and Quick and Dirty Tips put together these amazing checklists (one even printable) to have by your side while editing and proofreading:

Your Essential Proofreading Checklist: 10 Things You Can’t Forget

Grammar Girl’s Editing Checklist

Bookmark them and/ or print them. Now. You’ll thank me. Happy revising!

Words of Gratitude – Use Often [#WordsThatWow]

[This is the last post in our #WordsThatWow series. Read the rest of the posts here.]

nonprofit, nonprofit marketing, fundraising, language, best practicesI would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. ~G.K. Chesterton

Right, so, here’s the thing–we simply don’t show enough gratitude. By ‘we’, I mean pretty much all of us. Not just nonprofits. Many times in any given day I think, “Dang, I am grateful to that person/ organization/ company/ whatever for that bit of goodness they are putting out to the world.” But thinking it isn’t the same as saying it or showing it. As G. B. Stern said, “Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.”

Words of Gratitude come in all shapes and sizes. Here’s some inspiration!

In short, show gratitude whenever possible. So many people contribute to your nonprofit’s success–donors, volunteers, community supporters, etc. etc. Make sure they know how much you appreciate them. And remember that expressing gratitude not only makes the person you’re talking to feel good, it makes you feel good, too.

Thank you for reading this post!