How cause advocates & citizen journalists can be more effective
Target audience: Nonprofits, social change organizations, educators, journalists, foundations, businesses, individuals. This is part of Creating Media, our ongoing series designed to help nonprofits and other organizations learn how to use and make media.
Guest post by Spencer Critchley
Starting a blog for your nonprofit or organization and don’t know where to start? Write what you know — and what you care deeply about. Over time, you’ll develop your own style. As you do, follow some of the best practices that journalists and writers have long employed.
Here are 10 tips on how to write an effective, authoritative and persuasive blog post:
Respect the value of people’s time
1Anyone who publishes is making a deal with their audience: This will be more rewarding than real life would have been. Know your point, get to it quickly, and make your content dense with value. We live in a narcissistic age, and free access to world-wide distribution is not helping. We all need to remember: It’s not fascinating just because I said it.
Have a strong focus, and relate everything to it
2A good focus is a simple idea that people care about — in a newspaper story, it’s the lede. It’s a hard discipline to learn, but you can really only get one good idea across in any one article or program — everything else either supports and develops that idea, or it conflicts with and confuses it. Think of Beethoven’s Fifth as a model: The whole first movement is based on four notes.
Look for the heat in your subject
3Appeal is emotional, not intellectual. Even theoretical physicists get excited more by primal motives like pursuit, struggle and triumph than they do by abstract concepts. Look for what people will really care about in your content and use that as a guide.
Write about people, physical objects & actions
4Whatever your subject, make sure you focus on people or concrete things. These are what engage the imagination and the emotions, and concentrating on them has the added benefit of aiding clarity (see next item). Avoid abstractions, generalities, jargon and cliches.
Use plain speech and talk like a real person
5Too many people have been trained to use big words and complicated sentences to build an edifice to hide behind. If a simpler word can be used with no loss of meaning, use it. Same goes for fewer words vs. more. If you can’t say it plainly, that may mean you don’t understand it well enough yet.
Avoid adjectives and adverbs wherever possible
6Adjectives and adverts dilute your writing and seldom have any impact. It works much better to find the right nouns and verbs. As Mark Twain said, “If you find an adjective, kill it.” Adverbs are even worse. Try it, you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes. Compare “The widow Douglas was sanctimonious and hypocritical” with the way Twain wrote it in The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn:
The widow she cried over me, and called me a poor lost lamb, and she called me a lot of other names, too, but she never meant no harm by it.
Opinions are not facts — even your opinions
7Opinion makes blogging lively. But be sure you know the difference between opinion and fact, and make it clear to your readers as well. It’s all too easy to jump to conclusions when you’re predisposed to believe something. Readers thirst for reliable information. Make your blog a source they can trust.
Identify your sources
8Just asserting a fact is unpersuasive — even in ALL CAPS with lots of exclamation marks!!! — and it contributes nothing to a discussion. Your audience needs to know where this information comes from, so they can judge its credibility.
Be transparent: Identify interests
9If someone appears to be an expert, that’s one thing. If they also have a financial or other interest in you believing their version of reality, that’s another. Be skeptical of the claims people make — even allies — and be transparent about your relationship with them.
Check your facts
10Many magazines and national news organizations use professional fact checkers, and they still manage to make mistakes frequently. People may be citing you as a source, so try to get the details right. Related to this: Don’t forget to spell-check!