Writing Clearly

Writing clearly & concisely

People often don’t think clearly about what they want to say. Lazy thinking produces fuzzy writing. English novelist and journalist George Orwell provided six rules for clear and concise writing that can improve your letters, articles, leaflets, speeches, and news releases. The points below are adapted from Orwell’s essay, Politics and the English Language.

Don’t use a figure of speech that you are used to hearing or seeing in print.

Many speeches (and sportscasts) are full of tired figures of speech: “step up to the plate”, “axe to grind”, “grist for the mill”, “hammer out”, “acid test”.

If you have an original figure of speech, use it. If not, forget them.

Don’t use a long word where a short one will do.

Don’t say, “She facilitated changes”; say, “She made changes”.

Don’t say, “She communicated with…”; say, “She talked with…”

If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

Don’t say, “I am of the opinion that …”; say, “I think …”

Don’t say, “I am actively considering…”; say, “I am considering…”

Don’t use the passive tense where you can use the active.

Don’t say, “The result of lazy thinking is fuzzy writing”; say, “Lazy thinking produces fuzzy writing.”

Don’t use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon words if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

Don’t say, “She has a certain joie de vivre”; write, “She enjoys life.”

Don’t say, “It was déjà vu”; say, “We’ve seen this before.”

Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

If a word or phrase fits the occasion, use it. There is more than one way to say anything.

Working a Room

Meeting others is something that we all know how to do. But in public life you meet hundreds of
people, often in groups or in crowded rooms. The secret is to establish a personal link with each person, even in the briefest of encounters.

Your handshake should be brief and firm, but the grip should not be too tight.

Make direct eye contact, and introduce yourself (if the situation requires it).

If you already know the person, you are being reacquainted. If you don’t, ask the person for her name

If you don’t remember a name, say hello and listen carefully. Often the person will say something that tips you off. If remember where you met the person, but not the name make some reference to the event.

Work out a protocol with your partner (if that person is with you). If you don’t mention a name within a
few seconds, your partner can say something like, “I didn’t get your name…”

Listen carefully to introductions if someone who knows people in the group is accompanying you.

There may be those who want to engage you in lengthy discussion. Have an understanding with the person accompanying you about moving along. If that doesn’t happen, do so yourself, by saying something like: “Nice to meet you. I’ve got to move along here and say hello to these folks.”

Do not ask open-ended questions of people you meet that will invite long answers.

In the brief moments you have with an individual, focus on her completely. People feel offended if you look over their shoulder while they are talking to you.

If the event or room is a small one, try to meet everyone there. In a more populated setting you’ll be
able to meet only some of the people.

The above techniques can apply in a variety of situations – at political meetings, social events, canvassing at plant gates, subway or bus stops, or mainstreeting. You will quickly develop a skill at doing it.

Responding to the Media

Taking media calls

Reporters may call for your reaction to comments or events. At times these may be cold calls, asking you to respond to something that you have not heard about. The stakes can be high, so be sure to negotiate the interview. You can respond immediately (if you feel prepared), or promise to call back at an agreed time prior to deadline. Here’s how.

Negotiate the interview – ask the journalist what she wants to know and about her deadline. You can respond immediately (if you feel prepared), or promise to call back at an agreed time prior to deadline. This provides you with time to research the questions asked and respond to them. If you can’t answer
a question, say so.

How to do interviews

You have a message to convey and a target for it. Try to use interviews to get your message out.
If a reporter’s questions contain too many “what ifs”, say that you don’t know what may or may not happen. But usually you can turn loose or flawed questions to your advantage.

If, for example, a reporter is asks you about rumours of an election, or how many seats you expect
your party to win, use a “bridge” to turn a hypothetical question into a chance to talk about your message.

You might say, “I don’t know about an election, but I do know that the our party has been trying to make parliament work.”

You should always have examples at hand to support you core message. In this case, the facts might be described as follows: “We told the Liberals we wanted a budget that helped people get affordable housing, public transit and lower tuition fees – and we achieved that for Canadians.”

Your research should prepare you to be specific about what impact your efforts will have locally – how many houses might be built, how much will a student save if tuition fees are frozen or lowered.

You should liven up your message by building in sound bites that make it more likely the reporter will use your comments — “The difference here is that the Prime Minister shirks while our leader works.”

Keep your answers brief – the longer your response, the more likely you will go off message or say something unintended.

Be truthful, but that does not mean telling everything that you know.

Dealing with trick questions

If asked a baited question, do not repeat it in your reply.

“Your opponent says you are a liar and a crook. What do you say to that?”

Do not say, “I am not a liar and I am not a crook.”

Try this: “My opponent says a lot of things, but the truth is we don’t have enough affordable housing
in this community and I want to do something about it.”

Television Interviews

When being interviewed on location, ignore the camera and talk to the reporter.

When being interviewed by a reporter or host in studio, talk directly to that person.

Sit comfortably but straight up in your chair. If on a couch or deep chair, be sure to sit straight up.

Rest your hands on your knees or on the arm of the chair.

Be sure that your jacket or blazer is properly set – if it is long enough you might want to sit on its
hem so the jacket doesn’t ride up.

You will likely be asked to use a lapel microphone – it works best when you wear a jacket, along with
a shirt (or blouse) with buttons.

If you do cross your legs, do so in a closed stance and toward the interviewer.

If you are on a television call-in show, talk to the host, but directly to the camera when responding to a caller. Be polite to callers, even if they are unfriendly – pitch your message to other, more reasonable, members of the audience.

There may be several cameras in studio – the one with a red light glowing is live.

If you are being interviewed where the host is in one location and you are alone with a camera, talk to the camera, or a slight bit to one side of it.

If you need makeup for a studio interview, the station will provide it. Female interviewees often prefer
to use their own makeup.

Relaxation Technique

In preparing for a speech, news conference, interview or any public event, take time to find
somewhere to spend a few minutes to relax and get centered.

You can do this in a vehicle, a studio waiting room, a washroom, even on a chair in a crowded
room.

Sit comfortably with your hands hanging loosely at your sides. Close your eyes. Take deep and
slow breaths, then exhale gently. Try to block out all thoughts and surrounding noise.

The exercise is well worth the effort for the peace and relaxation that it provides. It slows you down
and it centres you so that you can perform at your best.

Preparing a News Release

The timing of a release should be sensitive to news deadlines.

You need a headline, a date, a release date (usually Immediate) and a dateline (the location from where it originates).

Keep releases short (one page). Add biographical information or a Backgrounder on a second page
if needed. Put the most important information near the top of the release and use a couple of quotes.

Write in the past tense: “Ms. Doe said…” not “Ms. Doe says…”

Put the name and telephone number of a contact at the bottom of the release. Be sure that someone
is available to answer calls from journalists.

If a television journalist responds, she may want you to do a brief on camera interview. Occasionally radio journalists will want to do a face-to-face interview as well. Build these possibilities into your schedule when you issue the release.

If you have no response to your release, follow up with a polite telephone call. Newsrooms receive many News Advisories and Releases every day and some of them are inevitably ignored or
misplaced. A telephone call can make all the difference.

(Sample)
NEWS RELEASE

DATE: day/month/year
RELEASE: Immediate

Jane Doe seeks NDP nomination in Saskatoon-Westside

Saskatoon — Former city councillor Jane Doe will seek the NDP nomination in the federal
constituency of Saskatoon-Westside.

“I am running because I want to help improve the health of people who live in our community,” Doe
said. “So many people are unhealthy because they are poor, unemployed or live in sub-standard housing.”

Doe is an outreach worker with the Community Health Clinic, a two-term city councillor and a member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

“I want to become part of a group of MPs who will make a difference on health care and other issues,” Doe said. “We want Parliament to work for Canadians and that’s why the NDP has pushed the Liberal government into putting more money into health care, affordable housing and the environment.”

Doe and her partner John live have lived in Saskatoon-Westside for 12 years. They have been active in community organizations and their two daughters attend high school in the constituency.

The Saskatoon-West NDP nominating convention will be held at the Pensioners & Pioneers Hall, 363 Ave C. South on Friday, September 21, starting at 7:30 p.m.

-End-

For more information call:
Jane Doe 306-221-2503

Performing in Debates

The decision about whether to attend an all-candidates’ debate (if you are in a political campaign) is
a strategic one, but usually you should do it – voters and media expect it, and it gives you a chance to shine.

During the debate, strive to be the most reasonable person in the studio (or room).

Be courteous with everyone when you arrive – hosts, staff and opponents.

When the debate begins, be crisp and assertive in your remarks, but never angry or rude. Try to use timing to slip in on an opponent (if you interrupt) rather than talking over her.

If you make opening and closing remarks, prepare them carefully and rehearse them. Know what you are going to say.

If you feel must have notes, put code words on cue cards and keep them out of sight. Refer to them
only as a last resort.

Prepare responses and sound bites for questions that you anticipate might arise.

If your research has provided you with information to surprise your opponent, use it early to throw her
off guard.

Talk to the audience, not your opponents. But there may be exceptions, when you are asking a
question of your main opponent or answering an attack.

Don’t get into arguments with the host or audience. If you must point out some shortcoming or failing
to the host, do so quickly and politely.

If two or more candidates in a mutli-candidate forum are having a slagging match, let them go at it. Watch for an opening, and then interject as the voice of reason.

If there is a live audience, make arrangements to have some of your supporters there. This is
especially helpful when you arrive and leave.

How to Hold a News Conference

Call a news conference only if you have something new or significant to announce — journalists will lose respect for you if you summon them for no important reason.

Choose a time that works best for local media deadlines & a location easily accessible for reporters and television cameras.

Consider choosing a location that is appropriate to the announcement – a day care, hospital or
housing site. But be careful because things can go wrong if you choose a noisy location, for example,
or if someone kicks you out because you neglected to obtain permission to use the site.

Stand at a podium or sit at a table – standing is usually better.

Have a backdrop — your signs or party logo, or a flag.

Prepare a statement, news release, and possibly a backgrounder to hand out.

If someone else presides, have her announce that you will make a brief statement, then take
questions. If you chair yourself, make a similar announcement.

Deliver a brief statement, talking rather than reading, but be precise about anything that you have
placed in quotes in an accompanying news release (Read these if you must).

Deliver your message directly to the cameras in front of you, or looking off just a bit to one side of the camera.

Invite questions, but keep your responses brief and on message.

Respond to the questioner, but if there are television cameras present, beware of turning too sharply
in one direction or another (if the questioner is off to the side).

Don’t let one reporter monopolize – ask if anyone else has questions.

Indicate when you are taking your last question, but be somewhat flexible.

Following the last question, leave the room. If you give an interview to one reporter on the way out, others may scrum you, too, and it will be hard to leave.

Co-operate if a television reporter wants you to do a walk through, or simulate taking a phone call as
a prop for their news story. But be careful about what you say in a simulated situation, because the microphone may pick it up. Anything that you say is fair game for reporters.