Here’s a great resource for writing clearly

There’s a force for good out there called Plain Language.

It’s a worldwide movement for clear and easy-to-read writing. And, in the US, it’s the law for federal documents, as required by the Plain Writing Act of 2010. Some other governments around the world have taken steps toward plain language, including the European Union.

Here’s the official document of the US government on plain language: Federal Plain Language Guidelines. It’s really an amazing piece — I suggest you download it and use it as a guide to better fundraising writing.

Here’s just the table of contents, itself a useful checklist for readable writing:

Think about your audience

  1. Identify and write for your audience
  2. Address separate audiences separately

Organize

  1. Organize to meet your readers’ needs
  2. Address one person, not a group
  3. Use lots of useful headings
  4. Write short sections

Verbs

  1. Use active voice
  2. Use the simplest form of a verb
  3. Avoid hidden verbs
  4. Use “must” to indicate requirements
  5. Use contractions when appropriate

Nouns and pronouns

  1. Don’t turn verbs into nouns
  2. Use pronouns to speak directly to readers
  3. Minimize abbreviations

Other word issues

  1. Use short, simple words
  2. Omit unnecessary words
  3. Dealing with definitions
  4. Use the same term consistently for a specific thought or object
  5. Avoid legal, foreign, and technical jargon
  6. Don’t use slashes

Sentences

  1. Write short sentences
  2. Keep subject, verb, and object close together
  3. Avoid double negatives and exceptions to exceptions
  4. Place the main idea before exceptions and conditions
  5. Place words carefully

Paragraphs

  1. Have a topic sentence
  2. Use transition words
  3. Write short paragraphs
  4. Cover only one topic in each paragraph

Other aids to clarity

  1. Use examples
  2. Use lists
  3. Use tables to make complex material easier to understand
  4. Consider using illustrations
  5. Use emphasis to highlight important concepts
  6. Minimize cross-references
  7. Design your document for easy reading

If federal bureaucrats can do it, so can fundraisers!


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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