Want Your Writing to Flow Better? Try These Five Things.

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

Typing

Did you ever read a letter from a nonprofit and feel that something was not quite right? Maybe you found it hard to read and weren’t sure why. When writing, you want your flow to be as “on” as possible. Here are five things to remember that will make your flow as smooth as possible.

1. Be Consistent

Inconsistency is one of my pet peeves. If you capitalize a noun in one place, make sure you capitalize that noun every time you mention it again. For example, The French Club shouldn’t evolve into the French Club or the French club throughout your piece. The same goes for abbreviations. If you introduce an abbreviation at the beginning of a letter, don’t start referring to it by its full name again half way through. People will get confused.

2. Don’t Liberally Toss Your Articles Around

I read a cooking article the other day that mentioned four things: The peppers, the onions, the carrots, and the garlic. Four words there are unnecessary. The whole thing is bulky. Keep it to peppers, onions, carrots and garlic. Only use articles like the, a, and an when they’re required.

3. Alliteration is Nice

If you can swing it, throw some alliteration into your piece. Clear, concise and compelling flows better than clear, brief and engaging. (By the way, you should be all of these things.)

4. Write in Threes

I’ve done a whole blog post dedicated to this topic, but I’ll summarize here. There is something about the number three that sticks in people’s heads and makes your writing or speaking sound better. If you have two and can come up with a third reason, adjective or example – do it. The same applies if you have four and can eliminate one.

5. Split Up Your Sentences

There’s no benefit to a sentence with three conjunctions, six commas, and endless words. When you can, split up your clauses into independent sentences. It will be easier to read and understand, I promise!

Get Out of Your Own Head

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

Get Out of HeadI’m often guilty of this: Because I like spicy food, cats and Dostoyevsky so much, when someone tells me they don’t like these things, it doesn’t make sense to me. I think things like, “How can anyone think that bland food tastes better??” and, “But look how cute its little face is!”

I have to consciously step back and realize that my reality is not the reality of others. We all have different personalities, experiences, and cultures that have shaped who we are and how we respond to things. I have to remember that long Russian novels are not for everyone.

Every marketer must keep this in mind when they’re crafting their messages and finding their mediums. I check Twitter when I wake up in the morning, I read articles that my friends share on Facebook. I’m attracted to satire and corny humor. For my nonprofit, I could create a marketing plan that exclusively uses Facebook, Twitter and blog posts with a satirical tone. And there’s a good chance that would get me absolutely nowhere. I’ve seen firsthand very clever marketing ideas shut down because the person with decision-making power thought it wouldn’t work. What she really was saying was, “This wouldn’t work on me.”

You have to get out of your own head and into your audience’s head. Figure out: Does my audience even use Twitter? What are their daily routines? Would they respond better to a casual tone, or a professional one? The easiest way to do this is to create a persona – a fictional person that embodies the audience you want to reach.

Get to know this “persona” – know as much as you can about them. You can do this through research, surveys, or just plain talking to people. (This post walks you through building a persona step-by-step.) Find out what they enjoy, what they value, and what drives them. And then speak to their wants, needs, motivations, etc.

No matter what messaging you use, you won’t appeal to everyone.  So you might as well appeal to those that matter most to your cause.

Would You Say This Out Loud?

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

Simplicity Quote

“Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people.” -Yeats

While I don’t particularly esteem this quotation because of its condescension to “the people” and its gender exclusionary term “wise man”, it does present a worthy sentiment.

For those of you that I didn’t lose already, let me rephrase that:

I don’t like this quote because it’s condescending, and it excludes anyone who isn’t male. But it does make a good point.

(You can obviously see the difference.)

To get your message noticed, it’s helpful to use unique words rather than the same old same old. However, there’s an important disclaimer to that advice: Make sure you are using words that are easy to understand. The key word is easy. You don’t want people to have to re-read your mission statement three times to finally get what you do. You don’t want to sound like you wrote your donation appeal with the help of a thesaurus. And you don’t want to overwhelm your audience with syllables.

An easy test you can use is this: Ask yourself, “Would I use this word/ phrase/ sentence in casual conversation?” Most people understand a “worthy sentiment”, but most people wouldn’t say it out loud. To make your message accessible, write like you speak. There are some exceptions that may have the opposite effect, such as using slang words and jargon that outsiders wouldn’t understand. But in general, if you can’t see yourself using it in conversation, don’t use it in your nonprofit’s messaging.

“Think complex thoughts but communicate with simplicity.” -my revision of Yeats.

[Photo retrieved from QuotesWave.com. Website:http://www.quoteswave.com/picture-quotes/2618]

We & Our – Use with Caution [#WordsThatWow]

nonprofit, nonprofit marketing, fundraising, language, best practices

[This is the latest post in our #WordsThatWow series.]

We. It seems like such a nice word, doesn’t it? Like a big hug. Only it’s a word. A word-hug, as it were. Ditto for ‘our’. 

“We are creating opportunities for girls across our state.”

‘We’ implies we’re all in this together. Working hard to make our state a better place. That’s a good thing,  isn’t it? Yes, it is, but here’s the thing: often ‘we’ aren’t all in this together.

“We’re putting an end to human trafficking.”

“We make sure every kid can become a great reader.”

“We feed our neighbors.”

When you read those sentences, to whom is the ‘we’ referring? That’s right, the organization. And this where ‘we’ goes awry. It’s not about you and your organization. It’s about the people you serve and the people who make it possible.

Often, when using the word “we”, nonprofits actually alienate the very people they want to include. We, us, our and ours (a.k.a. first person plural pronouns) quickly become an exclusive group, with the organization on the inside and donors, volunteers, supporters looking in. (Hence the cliché “us versus them”.)

The good news is: It doesn’t have to be this way. You can use these first person pronouns as a tool to include everyone who plays a part in helping your organization meet its mission.

Check out the phrases Tessa, our word-erific intern, used in a recent thank you letter:

 “We appreciate your commitment to a sustainable future. Together, we will create a world free of environmental injustice.”

Did you catch which “we” was referring to the organization’s staff, and which was including the donor? It’s the same word, but the distinction is in the context.

This is why we, us, our and ours can certainly be used, but should be used with caution. Sometimes, they can be powerful tools to make others feel involved in your cause. But other times, they can make people feel separate from your cause. Pay attention to your context.

We appreciate you reading our blog post. By learning more about language, we can better achieve our missions. (Get it?!)

The Beauty of Rhetoric

Last week, I wrote about the various words for love in Ancient Greece. Today, I continue my homage to the Greeks by attempting to revive the honor of a word that often stirs up negative feelings. A word that every marketing professional should be familiar with, including nonprofit marketers. The word is rhetoric.

While studying Public Relations and Communication Theory in college, I ran into the word rhetoric a lot, as well as the negative reactions that come with it. (I also faced a lot of negative reactions to the term “Public Relations”, but I won’t get into that today). Clichés such as “empty rhetoric” have emerged in the political arena and elsewhere. Misuse of the word has made it nearly synonymous with manipulation. Even Merriam-Webster has added a dimension of dishonesty to its definitions of rhetoric.

Let’s put thoughts of spin, trickery and dishonest politicians away for a minute and take a closer look. First emerging as a word in Ancient Greece, rhetoric literally means the art of rhetor, or, the art of oration. Essentially, it is the practice of effective communication. You don’t even have to have persuasion as a goal to practice rhetoric. You can educate. You can motivate. You can commemorate. In short, you can get people to listen to your message. And that’s important when you have a mission you care about; a mission others should know about.

The Ancient Greeks viewed rhetoric as an art form to be learned. While the concept didn’t start in Greece, Greek scholar Aristotle famously studied rhetoric and coined these terms closely associated with rhetoric: Ethos, pathos and logos. You may feel like you are reliving your Public Speaking 101 course here, but for those who aren’t familiar with the terms, this is the breakdown summary:

Ethos, pathos and logos are components to include in speech to make your message effective. Ethos means demonstrating your expertise of the topic on which you are talking. Pathos is an appeal to your listeners’ emotions, to get them to connect to your message in a personal way. Logos means ensuring your message is logical. If your message is lacking one of these components, it is less likely to be remembered, and less likely to be successful if your goal is to change opinions or behavior. While rhetoric’s origin is in speech, these same concepts can be applied to your writing as well.

If you still aren’t comfortable calling your organization’s communication rhetoric, that’s okay. Word meanings change constantly and quickly in our society, and this one may be a lost cause. But I encourage you to remember Aristotle’s advice the next time you are speaking or writing about your organization: 1. Establish your credibility, 2. Include a story or something similar that your listeners can relate to, and 3. Make sure what you are saying makes sense rationally.

While there are many language tools you can use to make your message more effective (some of which I will cover in future blog posts), ethos, pathos and logos are a good three words to keep in mind. And this may be my inner history nerd speaking, but isn’t it cool to know that the same techniques that were used over 1400 years ago are still relevant today?