Precision Plain English - LucidProse

Good Writing For Good Causes

Our Writing Tips

"Tips" means that I will distribute free advice here. Some of it might run to some length and might even be useful. "Stuff" means that I'm leaving room for other things that come to mind, and I'm sure they will.

This space is subject to updates, so check back now and then. If you have any questions, puzzles, comments or suggestions, please e-mail me. I'd like to hear from you.

The curse of PowerPoint
A contructive little rant about witless presentations.

Thinking about rich folks
On an online philanthropy bulletin board, someone posted this question: "Will nonprofits suffer loss of grants and donations if the national deficit worsens?" A reader replied: "Don't worry. The divide between the rich and the poor is widening, with the rich getting richer. There will be plenty of individuals and corporations for many more years to come who will want to feel good about being rich and will therefore give magnanimously. We will be kept busy asking and receiving on bended knee. I'm being cynical, of course, because such a divide in society is a deeply tragic situation." What would you say to this? You can read my response here.

Accentuate the negative
We all know about the power of positive thinking. I'm not knocking that. But if you want your message to motivate donors, you'd better understand the crucial importance of the downside of your cause.

For the love of language dog howling
When Wynton Marsalis talks about great jazz musicians, he illustrates their genius by singing characteristic phrases from their playing — "bee-boop da-dee-doop ba-bee-bop." If you've heard him do that, you know what I mean. Marsalis expanded and polished his technique by savoring such phrases until they became part of his musical fiber. Writers can do likewise by reading and savoring good writing, and they should. I'm partial to 19th century novelists, especially the Brits. I jot down lines that resonate with me, whether for their turn of phrase, musical cadence, wry wit, or insight into human nature. Here are a few passages from my notebook.

Diagramming makes a comeback

Here's to the passive voice!
"Use the active voice." How many times have you heard that advice? It's Rule 14 in Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. Many people follow it reflexively. If they see passive voice, they change it to active. More often than you might imagine, that's exactly the wrong thing to do. Here is an explanation of when to use passive voice.

more Tips & Stuff to come ... watch this space!