Last we heard from Kristan Allen, she was helping us with our core messaging. Today she is here to tell you how to get a toddler to follow your directions…just kidding! That’s almost impossible. But she can give you some tips on making sure your writing is clear and easily understood. ~Kivi
Guest Post by Kristan Allen of The Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania
I’m about to share with you a shining moment in my parenting career. I have a two-year-old and a one-year-old at home. They are beautiful, perfect kids who are rambunctious and crazy curious and have a zest for life.
To make a long story short, I was home with them one day and, somehow, they managed to lock me out of the house. No one else was home with me. My phone was locked in the house, too. And no, we have no spare key tucked away in a faux lawn ornament. As I rapidly assessed my options, I went through three stages of thought processing: 1) Denial: no way, there has to be a way in; 2) MacGyver: I’ll just find something to pick the lock; and 3) Worst Mom in the World: pretty self-explanatory.
My mind slowly began to process that I was locked out and really, honestly had no way to get back into my house, where my kids were already starting to wreak havoc. Desperation set in and, at some point during the “Worst Mom in the World” stage, I thought there might be a chance of explaining to my two-year-old how to let me back into the house. We installed a pretty hefty child lock on our front door, but what about the front window? The window locks are easily accessible if you stand on the side table (a favorite activity at our house). This will work!
I started explaining to my son how to unlock the window and, about 20 minutes later, I came to a shocking realization: I have no words. I’m a communicator by profession and I have absolutely no words. Nothing I’m saying right now is getting my point across about how to unlock this window.
What does this have to do with nonprofit communications, you ask? This whole experience got me thinking about the importance of writing for clarity. At a time when everyone is bombarded by messages and pleas for support, how can we as communicators ensure that we’re sharing our information in a clear, concise way? A few thoughts…
Avoid jargon. I referenced this in a prior post I wrote, but avoid an overuse of jargon and industry-specific terms. They immediately distance you from your audience, making it harder for them to connect with you. Think about your organization and its mission. How would you explain it to a group of high school students? Elementary school students? Boiling your information down to its very base level can help you ensure that you’re communicating the right things about your organization in a way that is easily understandable, even for someone who is unfamiliar with your work.
Organize. Any time you’re writing something that has several key points, organization is critical to making sure you’re conveying everything you want to in an easy-to-read, easy-to-remember format. Take your main points and categorize them by bullet points, lists or even using sub-headings. Outlining ways supporters can get involved with your organization? Create a “menu of engagement” that concisely lists the opportunities in brief, bullet-point fashion.
Take a Break, Then Go Back. Time isn’t always a luxury we have, but as you’re writing, take a break and revisit a piece later. Looking at your writing with a fresh set of eyes and a renewed perspective can do wonders for your editing capabilities. A Pulitzer Prize-winning sentence that you previously thought was indispensable – but really isn’t – is much easier to cut if you haven’t been laboring over it for two hours straight.
Share It Before You Share It. Before you finalize a piece and print it/send it/distribute it, share it with someone else. And take into consideration the purpose of the writing as you decide who to solicit feedback from. Are you writing a fundraising appeal for the general public? Find someone who isn’t as familiar with your organization and its work. As they read it, what questions do they have? Is there anything else you could include that would inspire them to get involved with your organization? This open feedback can help you decide what points are most important for people who aren’t supporters of your work (yet!).
To round this story out, I did manage to get back into my house…but not due to my ability to explain window-unlocking to my son. In addition to the above food-for-thought, I learned one other valuable lesson from this experience: hide a spare key somewhere.
What considerations do you keep in mind to ensure your writing is clear and concise?