Write better #1

Michelle Obama’s recent speech at the Democratic National Convention caught attention far and wide— but what made it so good? Journalism training specialists Poynter have a useful analysis here.

Speeches are a valuable resource for learning effective writing: as Poynter’s author points out, because they’re meant to be heard, they use more rhetorical devices than stuff that’s written down. The sound and the flow and the language jumps out at you, even if you don’t know why that is.

There’s lots of good stuff in the post about choice of language and structure, but one lesson I particularly like is: express your best thought in a short sentence, preferably using simple words (“when they go low, we go high”). It’s an approach that applies to most forms of communication, and reminded me of another helpful (and helpfully brief) resource. Unreasonable, a publication aimed at startups and entrepreneurs, urges them to rethink how they describe what they do — arguing that the “tweet pitch” (that one-liner about your company that you’ll use everywhere) is way more important to crack than the infamous elevator pitch.

One challenge for people talking about their own businesses, the author explains, is getting specific. “Tell us what you do, and… what makes it unique”, he writes. “A foodie-lifestyle company” could be one of thousands of businesses, but “we make hummus, but from black eyed peas” gets straight to the point.

Expressing things simply, while sticking to specifics, is harder than it looks — probably because it means making decisions about what’s most important. But it can be really powerful (not to mention tweet-able). And if you still doubt how much you can express in just a few words, have a look at some of the six word stories out there. And then write your own.

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