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Writing clearly  

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Writing clearly                                            | PSI Caribbean, November 2013 


Background

T

he project document for this 2011 – 2013 FES‐PSI cooperation project states, “Just as Caribbean governments have seen the need – because of small size and openness – to develop regional integration strategies, it is important that Caribbean public sector trade unions do the same. The issues with which Caribbean trade unions are faced call for a stronger effort to be “at the table” and influence policy decisions at the Caribbean regional level and ultimately, through strategic alliances, in the global arena. Problems to be solved  Absence of a cadre of trade unionists with expertise in, and the ability to contribute to national and Caribbean‐wide debates on:  public sector finance and taxation;  privatisation and outsourcing;  precarious work;  environment and climate change issues.  Lack of sufficient in‐depth knowledge of the wider Caribbean, its issues and challenges and the consequent inability to effectively represent wider‐Caribbean interests and concerns.”

“Influencing the debates on public policy and the development agenda in the Caribbean” requires that participants/affiliates be able to effectively articulate and

communicate their views, values, ideas and recommendations. Writing and speaking skills are therefore key to this process. This guide refers particularly to your writing skills

Clear writing

One of your main aims will be to help your readers as much as possible. You can do this:  by choosing the right words  by sentence length  by writing style Not all writing is easy to read, even when it is specifically aimed at trade unionists. Writing clearly for your members is an important skill. Some members are not in the habit of reading. And for some members, English is not their first language. Clear writing is clear language. It uses language that your audience will understand and that gives readers the information they need. Clear language combines what you write with how you write. Clear design uses the way material appears on the page to help the reader understand the content. Clear language and design saves time and avoids confusion and errors. 2   

Writing clearly                                            | PSI Caribbean, November 2013 


Some people resist clear language, thinking: • It's simple‐minded writing, or it uses vocabulary that talks down to people. Not so! Clear language is easy for your readers to understand. It helps people find the information they need. • We need legal or technical terms; some things just can't be written differently. Not so! Legally binding documents can be written in clear language, with the plus that people can understand them. If a technical term is needed, explain the term when you first use it. • It takes too long and costs too much. Not so! Clear language saves time and money. Your readers will have fewer questions and complaints. Why spend money on materials people can't understand? Clear language is effective language.

Word choices Use plain words (do, help, talk, start) and not academic or legal words (facilitate, dialogue, commence). Use concrete words (heat, noise) and not abstract ones (workplace environment). Use specific words (red, blue) and not general words (brightly coloured).

Sentence length Long sentences are difficult to understand. The more ideas, discussions nd qualifications there are in a sentence, the more difficult it will be to read. The following guidelines (not careved in stone0 are useful reminders:  Less than 25 words, OK  25 – 40 words; split the sentence into shorter ones  Over 40 words; re‐write the sentence These are just guidelines. Some long sentences, especially is simple words are used, might be quite readable. Too may short sentences can be jerky and disrupt the flow of your writing.

Be friendly, be personal Set a personal tone. This helps to break down the barrier between you and your reader. Compare, “It is possible that some people have had experiences of this nature.” With “You may have faced a situation like this.” 3   

Writing clearly                                            | PSI Caribbean, November 2013 


Be direct

Compare the effectiveness of the two statements “Collective bargaining is a complex  activity engaged in by unions and  employers/management. There are  many rules and regulations that  C  govern what happens at the  bargaining table”.  The first statement is true but it is vague. If anything, it may make the reader lose confidence.  

“Bargaining with  management is one of your  main activities. There are  basic skills involved which    will help you get a better  deal for your members”. 

The second statement is much more direct and helpful. It also points to things the reader can do to improve things.

Encourage action If union education is successful, it brings about change in the outside world – the workplace as well as society. You should try to develop a writing style that is action‐based. One way to encourage action is through the activities that you produce. You can also take opportunities in the text to prompt action.

Tackle problems head‐on Try also to refer to concrete problems or issues that members will easily recognise. If you are writing about health and safety, you should try and include examples that your members would come across at work.

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Writing clearly                                            | PSI Caribbean, November 2013 


Pitfalls

Remember that words that may work well when spoken do not work well when written. Jargon and technical words/terms is very common in trade unionism. If you have to use a technical term, then you should:  Explain it the first time you use it  Give readers a chance to learn the term by using it again later in the text  Include a glossary of abbreviations and technical terms Clichés and wasteful words Some words and sentences have been used so often, they have lost their meaning. Avoid them They take up space and mean nothing. Convoluted tenses Use the active tense instead of the passive tense. “We like mangoes” is simpler than “mangoes are liked by us”. Negatives Use positive statements which make the sense clear. 5   

Writing clearly                                            | PSI Caribbean, November 2013 


Checklist

Words

  

Did you use simple and straightforward words Did you use concrete words? Did you use specific words?

Sentences

Are the sentences reasonably short – less than 25 words?

Did you limit each sentence to cover one idea? (one idea per sentence; one thought per paragraph)

Style    

Did you write in a friendly and direct style? Does the material stimulate action? Does the material encourage collective decision‐making? Does the material deal with concrete problems and issues?

Pitfalls Have you avoided: - Jargon? - Clichés and wasteful words? - Convoluted tenses? - Negatives? 6   

Writing clearly                                            | PSI Caribbean, November 2013 


Breaking down text There is a basic structure or logical order behind most writing. This should exist in every chapter, section or issue that you write. 1. Introduction 2. Main points 3. Summary  Make your points  Substantiate each point  Give examples

Checklist – Checking your material  Is there a good introductory section that explains the aims?  Have you covered all the main topics/issues you need to?  Are the materials clearly divided into a number of manageable sections?  Do the sections follow a logical order?  Is there a consistent heading structure?  Is there a consistent style throughout the material?  Are there enough graphics or graphic elements?

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Writing clearly                                            | PSI Caribbean, November 2013 


Writing news stories For those of you who will be writing news stories for your union’s newsletter or as part of a broader education programme, below is an extract from UNISON (www.unison.org.uk) on how to write news stories.

How to write a news story A news story can jolt your emotions, explain the complex, reveal something new or maybe even make you change your mind. That’s powerful stuff for just a few words. Keeping members informed is often cited as a priority in branches. With a news story you have the chance to do so in an easily accessible way. The way a story is written is just as important as what goes inside your newsletter. There’s no mystery to this. Writing a news story is not difficult. Read on to find out how… Simplicity Think about who your audience is and what you want to say to them. What will attract their attention, keep them absorbed and make it worth their while? Think about what you are trying to do in your story. To inform? To educate? It is your job to present facts in an interesting, possibly entertaining, definitely informative, way. The best way to do this, as with most things, is to keep it simple. People Link your stories to people. For example, if the story is about a pay claim, show how it will affect members’ pay packets. This is because people make news. We’re interested in what they say, what they do and how things affect them. Facts The most useful formula for writing a news story was composed by Rudyard Kipling. ‘I have six honest serving men, They taught me all I knew, Their names are what and why and when And how and where and who’ If you answer all these questions in your piece, you’re well on the way to writing a good sound news story. The important thing about this rhyme is that it forces you to concentrate on the facts – names, address, titles etc. If you don’t get your facts right, you risk ridicule, lack of credibility, libel suits or worse, no one will read your newsletter. Remember, members want information. Order The next important factor is ordering your information. Get your facts to fall in the right place to keep your story interesting and digestible. How? Keep it short. Don’t bore your readers with detail in the introductory paragraph. Keep it simple and short. A good guideline is to try to keep the intro to 25 words. 8   

Writing clearly                                            | PSI Caribbean, November 2013 


Think about it in this way. If you have a good piece of gossip and you meet friend in the street, what do you tell them first? It’s usually the most important piece of information first, then secondary nuggets of information that enhance your story, followed by (sometimes) unnecessary detail. Another way to think about it is if a news story was a shape, then it would be a triangle. Important news at the pinnacle, supported by gradually growing layers of additional info. One of the reasons for this useful way of organising your stories is that if you have limited space in your newsletter, you can cut from the bottom and the story will not lose anything. And never start a news story with a quote. This device is acceptable for features but not news stories. Quotes are used to provide opinion, not facts. Waffle‐free The best way to steer clear of waffle is to keep sentences short. Try to write sentences of no more than ten words. Like that one. The idea being that you uncover one new idea in every sentence. Of course not everything you want to say falls neatly into ten words. But if you find your sentences stretching out to include clauses, digressions and other bits tagged on, it’s probably time you started a new sentence. Another good practice is to try to write no more than one sentence per paragraph. News writing is about boiling down the story, concentrating on the facts. This way you will keep stories brief and to the point. Don’t assume your readers have hours of leisure time to pore over your prose. They don’t. Tightly‐written stories will be read, longer detail‐filled items will come across as tedious. Everyday language And most vital – keep it active. Seize those verbs. Make them work for you, not trailing behind a stream of multi‐syllabic nouns or adjectives. Use short, snappy, precise words. Avoid foreign words. Jargon, technical words, abbreviation and puns you may think are clever to use at the time but will mystify your readers. The last thing you want is to stop your readers in their tracks. Heavy alliteration is also off‐putting and hard to read. Slang diminishes the value of your story and makes it less credible. Use everyday language. If you’re not sure, check the UNISON style guide. All this emphasis on facts risks a pretty dry story. This is where quotes come in. Use direct quotes to add opinion. Quotes are useful because they can liven up a story, eg Mary Smith said: ‘This is an outrageous attack on our most vulnerable members.’ 9   

Writing clearly                                            | PSI Caribbean, November 2013 


Leaflets, flyers and brochures

   

Can be designed to grab people's attention with a cartoon, graphic or provocative header Can provide people with enough basic information to encourage them to ask for more. Can become a catalyst for discussion when they are handed out personally. Can encourage people to jump on board.

A leaflet or a flyer (handbill) is usually a short, often urgent, written message printed on just one side of a standard weight paper if it is to be handed out or on poster board or cover stock if it is to be posted on a bulletin board. Use an attention‐getting graphic or a short, snappy headline in large type at the top so that people who will glance it from 20 feet away will want to stop and read it. A brochure is a glorified leaflet. It can explain things in more detail. It is useful for mailings and long‐term use and is less likely to be thrown away. You can fit more material into a brochure. In either a leaflet or brochure, you want to focus on just one basic idea or theme. Basic Preparation Questions No matter which format you choose to communicate the issue, there are a few basic questions to keep in mind when putting your written piece together:  Why are you writing the article, leaflet, flyer, brochure, article or letter?  Decide what action or attitude you hope to influence.  What do you want to communicate to the reader?  Clearly define your objective in your own mind.  Who are you trying to reach with this message?  Your audience will determine: 1) the tone of your article, etc.; 2) kinds of arguments used; and 3) action requested.  What are your most persuasive arguments?  Identify the main reasons why it is to the reader's interest to act in the manner you suggest.

After thinking about the issue, you're ready to write 1. Get attention through a headline. A good headline should give people reason to read on. It also helps if you try to see things from the audience's position. What is likely to make them stop and think? 2. Use a cartoon, picture or graphic, if possible. A cartoon can add interest and sometimes humour. The right picture or graphic can illustrate key points. Leave plenty of space around the headline, the cartoon or the picture. Most people don't want to read a long, rambling sheet of information. 3. Outline your major points and use them as subheadings. Sub‐headings allow people to get the overall picture of the issue. Subheadings also help to make the leaflet, etc. easier to read and reflect that it is organised. 10   

Writing clearly                                            | PSI Caribbean, November 2013 


4. Explain each sub‐heading and decide how much detail you will use. A one‐page flyer or leaflet will probably just include highlights of information. A longer newspaper/newsletter article or brochure, will likely contain more specific details. 5. End by re‐emphasizing your main idea (what you want people to remember). The ending may also include an appeal for action. 6. Consider using a regular layout or style for your leaflet, etc. Members will begin to recognise your work and become familiar with its purpose. This will add a degree of comfort and confidence to their understanding the issues.

Headlines If you write a dull headline for an exciting story, your exciting story probably won’t be read. Try to make your headlines lure your readers into your stories. Some guidelines 1. Use action verb and preferably the active voice 2. Be specific. 3. Avoid weak and hackneyed words. 4. Don’t use names, terms, phrases, initials or other references not instantly understandable to the reader. 5. Headlines generally should have a subject and a verb. Avoid “title” or “label” headlines with only a subject. 6. The first word in the head should be capitalised as should all proper nouns. Most headline words appear in lower‐case letters. Do not capitalise every word. 7. Avoid awkward breaks of thoughts or elements such as the following: Smith runs dead last for mayor 8. Use present tense for immediate past information, past tense for past perfect, and future tense for coming events.

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Writing clearly                                            | PSI Caribbean, November 2013 


What makes a good headline?

1. The headline should tell what the article is about. Give real information. Breing clever is nice, but not as important. 2. Trim it down to three to eight words long: if you need to give more information, put the overflow in a smaller sub‐head. 3. Make it active and not passive. Tell what’s happening, not just what is. Instead of Dental Plan Highlights, say something like “You have new dental benefits” or “We won free dental visits!” 4. Stick to short, simple words wherever possible. 5. Avoid using words that have double meaning, unless both meanings apply. Scrutinise every word carefully, to make sure it couldn’t be taken to mean something else. The following is a famous headline. Not only does it have a double entendre, but the bad break at the end of the first line contributes to the problem. Street sales for the newspaper were extraordinary that day; the edition sold out in a remarkably short time. Read the head and you’ll see why: Textron Inc. Makes Offer To Screw Co. Stockholders

6. Stick to words everyone understands. Use abbreviations only if everyone knows what they mean. 7. Set headlines in big and bold type, so they jump out at readers. 8. After the headline is written, cut out every unnecessary word. 9. Choose specific words that hit home over vague ones. 10. Show why this topic matters to your readers.

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Writing clearly                                            | PSI Caribbean, November 2013 


Problem headlines Example #1: A case of “headlinese”

Law profs nix Thomas

Avoid “forced” abbreviations Oh, yeah, I'll bet you say “nix” all the time

Example #2: Huh? Are “chase” and “winds” verbs or nouns?

Police chase winds through three towns Example #3: Uhhh, OK, so what the heck happened? News, please!

USD #269 Board of Education meets Example #4: Isn't it against the law to murder a drunk? Oh, now I see, it's a potential witness to a murder who happened to be drunk?

Potential witness to murder drunk Example #5: It ain't Kansas; we're a cattle state.

Downtown hogs grant cash Oh, the "downtown" is hogging cash from a grant!

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Example #6: A poor choice.

Example #7: How nice!

Cop picks open can of worms

Senate presses vets suits

Writing clearly                                            | PSI Caribbean, November 2013 


Example #8: Well, we THINK he's dead. Oh, a professor of “Greek thought.”

Professor of Greek thought dead at 59 Example #9: Stop the presses! (Beware the no-verb headline).

Dead cats protest Example #10: "dead" or "dead even"?

Example #11: Spare the rod...?

Dole and Bush dead even in Kansas polls

Teacher strikes idle kids

Example #12: This is taking planning too far. This is when you need to plan on using the verb “to be” (are) and the article “a” — Pope's plans are a headache.

Pope plans headache Example #13: Everyone deserves good legal help — even if it is free.

Clinic gives poor free legal help

Example #14: Don't we all?

Example #15: This gives church a bad name!

Lebanon chief limits access to private parts

20,000 at mass for Polish priest reported killed

Example #16: Those are smart cats! 14   

Writing clearly                                            | PSI Caribbean, November 2013 


Shooting cats to study head wounds called cruel Example #17: Now, twice as many?

Example #18: Punishment fits crime?

S. Florida illegal aliens cut in half by new law

Police begin campaign to run down jaywalkers

Example #19: A euphemism for capital punishment?

Trial ends in mercy killing Example #20: Man bites dog?

Example #21: Now, that's a crime!

Owners responsible for biting canines

Woman off to jail for sex with boys

Example #22: Should have gone to the “10 items or less” line. It's quicker.

Sisters reunited after 18 years in checkout line at supermarket

Example #23: . I'd tell all, too Threatened by gun, employees testify

Example#24: Evening the odds? Prison warden says inmates may have 3 guns

Example #25: Personally, I refuse to hate Friday. TGIF!

Services for man who refused to hate Thursday in Atlanta   http://web.ku.edu/~edit/headproblem.html 15   

Writing clearly                                            | PSI Caribbean, November 2013 


Citing references The Modern Language Association (MLA) establishes values for acknowledging sources used in a research paper. MLA citation style uses a simple two‐part parenthetical documentation system for citing sources: Citations in the text of a paper point to the alphabetical Works Cited list that appears at the end of the paper. Together, these references identify and credit the sources used in the paper and allow others to access and retrieve this material.

In MLA style, writers place references to sources in the paper to briefly identify them and enable readers to find them in the Works Cited list. These parenthetical references should be kept as brief and as clear as possible.  Give only the information needed to identify a source. Usually the author's last name and a page reference suffice.  Place the parenthetical reference as close as possible to its source. Insert the parenthetical reference where a pause would naturally occur, preferably at the end of a sentence.  Information in the parenthesis should complement, not repeat, information given in the text. If you include an author's name in a sentence, you do not need to repeat it in your parenthetical statement.  The parenthetical reference should precede the punctuation mark that concludes the sentence, clause, or phrase that contains the cited material.  Electronic and online sources are cited just like print resources in parenthetical references. If an online source lacks page numbers, omit numbers from the parenthetical references. If an online source includes fixed page numbers or section numbering, such as numbering of paragraphs, cite the relevant numbers. Works Cited list References cited in the text of a research paper must appear at the end of the paper in a Works Cited list or bibliography. This list provides the information necessary to identify and retrieve each source that specifically supports your research.  Arrange entries in alphabetical order by authors' last names (surnames), or by title for sources without authors.  Capitalize the first word and all other principal words of the titles and subtitles of cited works listed. (Do not capitalize articles, prepositions, coordinating conjunctions, or the "to" in infinitives.)  Shorten the publisher's name; for example, omit articles, business abbreviations (Co, Inc), and descriptive words (Press, Publisher).  When multiple publishers are listed, include all of them, placing a semicolon between each.  When more than one city is listed for the same publisher, use only the first city.  Use the conjunction "and," not an ampersand [&], when listing multiple authors of a single work.  Pagination: Do not use the abbreviations p. or pp. to designate page numbers.  Indentation: Align the first line of the entry flush with the left margin, and indent all subsequent lines (5 to 7 spaces) to form a "hanging indent."  Italics: Choose a font in which the italic style contrasts clearly with the regular style. 16   

Writing clearly                                            | PSI Caribbean, November 2013 


Examples Books: References to an entire book should include the following elements:  author(s) or editor(s)  the complete title  edition, if indicated  place of publication  the shortened name of the publisher  date of publication  medium of publication Basic Format Lastname, Firstname. Title of Book. Place of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication. Medium of Publication. Government Documents: References to government documents vary in their required elements. In general, if you do not know the writer of the document, cite the government agency that issued the document as author. International document United Nations. General Assembly. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. New York: United Nations, 1979. Print.

Citing Materials from Online Sources In general, references to online works require more information than references to print sources. Citations for online sources, like those for print sources, should provide information that both identifies a source and allows that source to be located and retrieved again. All citations should include the medium of publication (Web) and the date the content was accessed. If the source is difficult to locate or your instructor requires a URL, list the complete address within angle brackets after the date. In many cases, it is also necessary to identify the Web site or database that has made the material available online.

Example Harris, Robert. "Evaluating Internet Research Sources." VirtualSalt. 22 November 2010. Web. 20 Apr. 2011. In the example above, the first date is the date of the page itself, while the second date is the date you accessed (read or printed) the page. Optional, with URL if required: Harris, Robert. "Evaluating Internet Research Sources." VirtualSalt. 15 June 2008. Web. 20 Apr. 2009. <http://www.virtualsalt.com/evalu8it.htm>. 17   

Writing clearly                                            | PSI Caribbean, November 2013 


“If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” John Wooden

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Writing clearly                                            | PSI Caribbean, November 2013 


Writing clearly november 2013