Writing to Persuade

… a core topic in Communication Skills and Atlas109
and study materials for Week 5 of Atlas206 Internship Reading

writingTopic description

This topic introduces students to the principles of persuasive writing and to some of the techniques and sources of advice on improving writing skills.

Note: In addition to elaborating a core topic in Leadership Skills and Atlas109, the concepts below constitute study materials for Week 5 of Atlas206 Internship Reading. The Atlas quiz can be found at Quiz 5 – Writing to Persuade. All 15 quizzes for Atlas206 Internship Reading are available at Concept Quizzes for Atlas206 Internship Reading.

This page draws substantially on advice developed by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Communication program – see HKS Speaking and Writing Handouts.

Topic learning outcome

Upon completion of this topic students should be familiar with the principles of writing documents such as op-eds and blogs and be able to apply these as well as other writing-improvement techniques in communicating their ideas.

Core concepts associated with this topic
Smith’s 3-Step Approach to Policy Communication

Policy Issue Paper

Young and Quinn’s Writing Checklist for Problem Definition

Behn’s Craft of Memo Writing

Writing a Briefing Note

Writing a Summary

PowerPoint and Data Visualization

Andrew Coyne’s Tips for Writing a Column

Michael Valpy on Writing Op-Eds

Basic Op-Ed Structure

Ledes and News Hooks

Lede and Subhead

Writing a Press Release

Using Plain Language

Style Guides

In addition, most of the core concepts associated Principles of Persuasion are highly germane in this topic.

Recommended 3 hours of study for Week 5 of Atlas206 Internship Reading

Concept pages above.

Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, Good Policy Writing, at http://www.policynl.ca/policydevelopment/policywriting.html, accessed 27 January 2016.

Bob Behn, The Craft of Memo Writing, HKS Communications Program, at http://shorensteincenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Behn-Craft-of-Memo-Writing-2013-3rev8_26_13.pdf, accessed 27 January 2016.

Complete Quiz 5 – Writing to Persuade.

Recommended 10 hours of study for Atlas109 Leadership and Communication

Concept pages above.

Complete Quiz 5 – Writing to Persuade.

Op-Eds

Seglin, Jeffrey, 2012, How to Write an Op-Ed or Column, HKS Communications Program, at http://shorensteincenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/HO_NEW_HOW-TO-WRITE-AN-OPED-OR-COLUMN.pdf, accessed 2 January 2016.

Duke University, 2013, How to Write an Op-Ed Article, at http://newsoffice.duke.edu/duke_resources/oped, accessed 2 January 2016.

The Op-Ed Project, Questions for Op-Ed Writers, at http://www.theopedproject.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=66&Itemid=78, accessed 25 January 2016.

Policy writing

Bob Behn, The Craft of Memo Writing, HKS Communications Program, at http://shorensteincenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Behn-Craft-of-Memo-Writing-2013-3rev8_26_13.pdf, accessed 27 January 2016.

Joseph Nye, Brief Guidelines for Writing Action Memoranda, HKS Communications Program, at http://shorensteincenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Joe-Nye_Brief-Guidelines-for-Writing-Action-Memoranda_new2013.pdf, accessed 27 January 2016.

Luciana Herman, Policy Memos, HKS Communications Program, at http://shorensteincenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/HO_Herman_Policy-Memos_9_24_12.pdf, accessed 27 January 2016.

Luciana Herman, Executive Summary Guidelines, HKS Communications Program, at http://shorensteincenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/HO_HERMAN-Exec-Summary_2-14-13.pdf, accessed 27 January 2016.

Marie Danziger, Checklist for Writing Action Memoranda, HKS Communications Program, at http://shorensteincenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/CHECKLIST-FOR-WRITING-ACTION-MEMORANDA_New-2013.pdf, accessed 27 January 2016.

Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, 2014, Five Steps to Writing Effectively about Social Justice Passions, at http://shorensteincenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/HO_Alexandria_10_23_14-5_steps_to_writing_effectively_about_social_justice_passions.pdf, accessed 27 January 2016.

  1. Brainstorm widely
  2. Narrow you topic and find an angle
  3. Find a character
  4. Take the reader on a journey, no matter how small
  5. Use the ladder of abstraction (See Ladder of Abstraction)

Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, Good Policy Writing, at http://www.policynl.ca/policydevelopment/policywriting.html, accessed 27 January 2016.

Guides for Briefing Notes, Summaries, Memoranda, Letters

Rob Parkinson, Writing for Results, at http://writingforresults.net/, accessed 10 April 2016.

Public Sector Writing, “How To” Manuals, at http://www.publicsectorwriting.com/?page_id=25, accessed 10 April 2016.

Susan Doyle (2013), Course Notes and Tips, Engl302 Writing for Government, at http://web.uvic.ca/~sdoyle/E302/Notes/index.html, accessed 10 April 2016.

Style Guides

Style Guide, The Economist, at http://www.economist.com/styleguide/introduction, accessed 10 April 2016.

The Canadian Style, Dundurn Press Limited, in cooperation with Public Works and Government Services Canada Translation Bureau, at http://www.btb.termiumplus.gc.ca/tpv2guides/guides/tcdnstyl/index-eng.html?lang=eng, accessed 10 April 2016.

Grammar

Grammar Girl blog at QuickandDirtyTips.com at http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl, accessed 4 January 2016.

Recommended readings in MPP and MPA courses 

[TO COME]

Concept comprehension questions

CCQ206.05.01. Among the statements a-d pertaining to Smith’s 3-step approach to policy communication choose the one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Policy is about problems, so some discussion and definition of the problem are necessary.

b. Decisionmakers like to have options, not for their own sake but because most policy issues involve a balance of interests and values, and have a spectrum of options that strike the balance in different ways is useful.

c. The preparation step includes identifying the significant actors, their roles, and their interests.

d. The plan step includes determining the appropriate medium – e.g., written document, presentation, e-mail.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid.

CCQ206.05.02. Among the statements a-d pertaining to policy issue paper choose the one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Policy issue papers are relatively long, detailed, and technical analyses of a policy problem, with consideration of options and recommendations.

b. Policy issue papers are shorter than policy memoranda.

c. Policy issue papers answers questions such as the scope and severity of the problem and the extent to which it requires public action.

d. Policy issue papers answers questions such as the major alternatives available to achieve the objectives and the criterial that should be employed to evaluate the performance of the alternatives.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid.

CCQ206.05.03. Among the statements a-d pertaining to Young and Quinn’s writing checklist for problem definition choose the one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Policy papers should avoid appendices and bibliographies.

b. The generic outline for a policy paper consists of title, table of contents, abstract/executive summary, introduction, problem description, policy options, conclusion and recommendations, appendices, bibliography, and endnotes.

c. The importance of writing effective titles for papers is often underestimated, but it is significant that the title is more than likely the first part of a paper readers see and it begins the process of communicating the message contained in the policy paper.

d. The problem definition is usually placed early in the introduction and is crucial in convincing your reader to share your viewpoint that an urgent problem exists and that your paper is worth reading because it will offer possible solutions to the problem.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid.

CCQ206.05.04. Among the statements a-d pertaining to Behn’s craft of memo writing choose the one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Writing memoranda in public management should be considered a craft, with detailed attention to design and technique.

b. You may never acquire the importance and influence that you seek – and make the career advances that you desire – without first developing your ability to write clearly, coherently, and persuasively.

c. Write for your specific audience; do not concern yourself with potential secondary circulation of the memo.

d. Omit needless words; if it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid.

CCQ206.05.05. Among the statements a-d pertaining to writing a briefing note choose the one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Briefing notes are a way to quickly and succinctly provide information quickly and effectively up the decision-making chain.

b. Most briefing notes include a Title that at a glance describes the note for the reader and a Summary – a section with 2-3 bullet points providing the highest-level summary of the issue possible.

c. The Background section of the briefing note provides the contextual information that is necessary for the reader to know, usually including who is involved, what is being done, when it is being done.

d. Everything included in the briefing note should be factual, simple, and relevant; if there an extremely important statistic or quote that would assist the reader it should be included in a prominent position.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid.

CCQ206.05.06. Among the statements a-d pertaining to writing a summary choose the one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Summaries of another writer’s work always have two important features: they are shorter than the source and they capture the same message as the original but without the same words.

b. An effective summary captures the most important information, including important information usually includes controlling ideas (purpose statements and topic sentences), major findings, and conclusions or recommendations.

c. An effective summary includes personal comments or conjectures and long explanations.

d. An effective summary can stand on its own so that readers should have to turn to the source document only if they need more detail – not to get the main ideas.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid.

CCQ206.05.07. Among the statements a-d pertaining to PowerPoint and data visualization choose the one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Most briefings to senior officials these days – indeed, it would seem most presentations of any sort – are done with presentation software such as PowerPoint.

b. A PowerPoint presentation should include paragraphs reproduced from the main document.

c. PowerPoint presentations are necessarily “low resolution” with not much space per slide and this can induce overgeneralizations, imprecision, or mere slogans. Presentations, because of low resolution, rely on bullets, which are imprecise and linear, leaving out or obscuring important causal relationships .

d. Thoughtfully planned handouts at your talk tell the audience that you are serious and precise; that you seek to leave traces and have consequences; and that you respect your audience.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid.

CCQ206.05.08. Among the statements a-d pertaining to Andrew Coyne’s tips for writing a column choose the one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Be humble in front of the reader – no one has to spend two minutes reading your column and get to the point.

b. Have a point worth making; think hard about what you are bringing to the table.

c. Try to persuade people, which requires empathy to understand why they can reasonably have come to different conclusions from you.

d. Editing is crucial – avoid clichés, bombast, and sentimentality and find the exactly right word; and cut from the top – writers often spend a paragraph or two clearing their throats.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid.

CCQ206.05.09. Among the statements a-d pertaining to Michael Valpy’s tips for writing op-eds choose the one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Neat, short sentences, active voice wherever possible, tightly argued.

b. Provocative, attention-grabbing lede-makes you want to read on.

c. Arguments and supporting evidence side-by-side.

d. Conclusion that ties everything together and swings back to reprise the lede.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid.

CCQ206.05.10. Among the statements a-d pertaining to basic op-ed structure choose the one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Lede (around a news hook).

b. Argument (based on evidence such as stats, news, reports from credible organizations, expert quotes, scholarship, history, first-hand experience).

c. To Be Sure paragraph (in which you pre-empt your potential critics by acknowledging any flaws in your argument, and address any obvious counter-arguments).

d. Conclusion (often circling back to your lede).

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid.

CCQ206.05.11. Among the statements a-d pertaining to ledes and news hooks choose the one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Lede is a synonym for the leader, or title of the article.

b. A lede is what sets the scene and grabs your reader’s attention – it is your introduction.

c. A news hook is what makes your piece timely, and often is part of the lede.

d. A lede could be personal, such as “College admissions officers around the country will be reading my applications this month, essays in which I describe personal aspirations, academic goals – even, in one case, a budding passion for the sitar. What they won’t know is that I actually graduated from college more than a year ago, and that the names attached to these essays are those of my duplicitous clients.”

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid.

CCQ206.05.12. Among the statements a-d pertaining to lede and subhead choose the one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. The lede, or lead paragraph in literature is the opening paragraph of an article, essay, news story or book chapter.

b. The subhead in journalism is an introductory or summary line or brief paragraph, located immediately below the headline, and typographically distinct from the body of the article.

c. Lede and subhead are synonyms.

d. The subhead is also known as subheader, standfirst, rider, kicker, or bankhead.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid.

CCQ206.05.13. Among the statements a-d pertaining to writing a press release choose the one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. A press release is a brief written summary alerting the potentially interested media about an organization’s initiative or activity.

b. A press release should never be more than one page.

c. A press release should normally include several full quotes that sound like they were spoken, not written.

d. A press release can include attachments – a summary of the key points can help the reporter write an article, if the paper decides that would be more appropriate than a press release for the story you have to tell.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid.

CCQ206.05.14. Among the statements a-d pertaining to style guides choose the one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. A style guide is a set of standards for writing.

b. A style guide can be developed for a specific publication, organization, or field.

c. A style and deals with spelling and grammar – not design.

b. A useful style guide for Canada is entitle The Canadian Style and includes advice on plain language.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid.

CCQ206.05.15. Among the statements a-d pertaining to using plain language choose the one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Using plain language in written communication helps convey information easily and unambiguously.

b. Plain language requires using a highly simplified style, comprehensible by a sixth grade reader.

c. A number of general features distinguish plain language documents from traditional styles of government writing: they are organized for easy reading; they use words effectively; they are built of clear, simple sentences and paragraphs; and they are designed for visual appeal.

d. Plain language deals with more than words and also includes organization, document design, and sentence and paragraph style.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 23 April 2017.

Image: Communication Blog, at http://www.people-communicating.com/what-writing-skills-do-entry-level-employees-need.html, accessed on 4 January 2016.