Less is (Still) More:
Effective Writing for the Settlement Sector

A handbook for the Community Integration Network
Prepared by Vin Heney – March 2012

Based on the workshop Less is (Still) More: Writing for the Public and the Personal
(Delivered by Vin Heney on Dec. 5, 2011 & Mar. 12, 2012, Toronto, ON)

For more information contact:

Vic Heney logo

Vin Heney, MPC, B.A.H.
Communications Professional
Toronto, Ontario
vheney@gmail.com
Phone (647) 460-2578
@VinHeney

Copyright © 2012, Vin Heney
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database and retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.




Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Getting the Pen Moving
    1. Freeflow Writing
    2. Mindmap
  3. Write Simply
    1. Writing with Concision
    2. Eliminating Redundancies
    3. Rules for Functional Writing
  4. Writing for the Settlement Sector
    1. Email
    2. Flyers & Brochures
    3. Blogs & Social Media
    4. Newsletters
    5. Reports
    6. Grant Applications
  5. Last But Not Least
  6. Activity Solutions
  7. Bibliography



1. Introduction

“People are doing you a favour by reading what you write.
Don’t make them work too hard.”
–Robert D. Smith

Create a blog, send an email, write a report, craft a tweet, share a memo, design a flyer, develop a newsletter, etc., etc., etc. There are more ways than ever to communicate in the workplace, but when it comes to the written word, the golden rule still applies: Keep it simple.

This handbook will look at the most common writing demands of the settlement sector, as well as provide exercises to help strengthen your writing and sharpen your message. Links to additional resources will also be provided throughout the workbook. Grab a seat (and a pen!) and let the games begin.

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2. Getting the Pen Moving

Often the hardest part of writing is getting the first thought down; the blank page –or screen – can be intimidating. The trick is to get the pen moving. Odds are you have more things to say than you think. So how to open the floodgate? Here are two exercises that can help facilitate any kind of writing.

1. Freeflow Writing

One of the first things that all aspiring writers and journalists learn is freeflow writing. It’s essentially writing without editing, revising or stopping – a stream of consciousness that gets captured in real time. With a bit of practice you’ll find this to be a useful warm-up and a great way to get your thoughts on the page and temporarily shut down our editing mind.  Freeflow writing can either be focused (about a particular topic) or loose (not about a particular topic). It’s up to you. In writing workshops, I usually provide the group with a prompt (ie. “When I think of writing…” or“The best part of my job is…”) and then challenge them to write non-stop for 3 or 4 minutes. Freeflow writing can be completely personal – you don’t have use or share any of it, but be warned: the quality of the writing may surprise you! Sometimes all it takes is a little freedom for the thoughts to come flowing out.

Resources:
http://rosalindadam.blogspot.com/p/page-3-free-flow-writing.html
http://voices.yahoo.com/how-freeflow-writing-will-cure-writers-2550309.html

2. Mind Map

Similar to freeflow writing, mind maps are a stream of consciousness. In this case, however, the activity is always based on a single topic. For example, if you wanted to create a mind map based on work-related stress, you would put ‘work-related stress’ in the centre of your page, and branch out with multiple related topics (ie. causes, prevention, support, etc.). Each word builds on the next, until you have thematic groups of keywords all related to various elements of a central theme. It is essentially an organized brainstorm of terms for a given topic – which will come in handy when you begin writing about that topic more formally. Here’s an example of what a mind map might look like:

Example of what a mind map might look like

Resources:
http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newISS_01.htm
http://writetodone.com/2008/12/01/how-to-use-a-genius-tool-for-writers-mind-maps/

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3. Write Simply

You will find that the most clear and concise writing is often the hardest to produce. We sometimes develop sentences that are unnecessarily wordy and use words that are redundant. But fear not: when it comes to writing, a few tips can go a long way. Here are some short exercises that will help you keep it simple.

Writing with concision

Try to re-write the following sentences in a more concise manner. Keep in mind the level of detail required will depend on the context, but often in the professional settings, getting straight to the point is preferable:

Example #1
The last time I watched the Toronto Maple Leafs play they were brutally defeated in a totally lopsided game. / The last time I saw the Toronto Maple Leafs they were sorely defeated.

Example #2
Working at the Welcome Center is truly the best because all of the staff there are so supportive and helpful and understanding. / It is a pleasure working at the Welcome Centre because of its supportive work environment.




*See solutions

Eliminating Redundancies

Eliminate unnecessary words from the following sentences:

Example #1
It is absolutely necessary that the public masses be made aware of the actual facts pertaining to the issue regarding toxic air pollution.

Example #2

My fellow colleagues and I are fully satisfied with the advanced planning that has already occurred for tomorrow night’s evening event – I think we are on the verge of a major breakthrough.




*See solutions

Rules for Functional Writing

Here are four rules to keep in mind when writing for a professional audience:

*Remember, your writing says a great deal about yourself and your organization, so always aim to create communications that are as professional and respectful as possible.

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4. Writing for the Settlement Sector

OK, now that you’re warmed up and know what kind of writing to strive for, let’s look at some of the common writing demands of the settlement sector.

Email

Resources:
http://www.dynamoo.com/technical/etiquette.htm
http://www.macmillandictionaryblog.com/hello-hi-oh-dear
http://thinksimplenow.com/productivity/15-tips-for-writing-effective-email/

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Flyers & Brochures

Resources:
http://www.businessknowhow.com/marketing/flyer.htm
http://www.squidoo.com/flyerdesign
http://ezinearticles.com/?Tips-For-Printing-Flyers-to-Promote-Your-Business&id=4646582

Blogs & Social Media

Resources:
http://theedublogger.com/2009/01/04/quick-start-tips-for-new-flickr-users-part-i/
http://www.startingablog.com/
http://www.rositacortez.com/social-media-101/twitter/creating-an-effective-twitter-profile/

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Newsletters

Resources:
http://www.topstory.ca/newsletters.html#.T203L1G_za4
http://www.gottaquirk.com/2009/11/05/top-tips-for-writing-a-newsletter-that-rocks/

Reports

Resources:
http://cec.vcn.bc.ca/cmp/modules/rep-btr.htm
https://www.dlsweb.rmit.edu.au/lsu/content/pdfs/2_assessmenttasks/super_report.pdf
http://wiki.settlementatwork.org/wiki/Let's_talk/CIC_Reports_and_Literature_Reviews

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Grant Applications

Resources:
http://www.settlementatwork.org/_rfp_/93780
http://www.content-professionals.com/How-to-Write-a-Grant-Proposal.php
http://www.stepbystepfundraising.com/20-free-grant-writing-resources-non-profits/


5. Last But Not Least

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6. Activity Solutions

*There are many different ways to re-work the following sentences. Here are some possible solutions:

Writing with Concision:

  1. It was not until my client arrived that we came to the decision to commute across the city and speak to the immigration lawyer.

When my client arrived, we decided to visit the immigration lawyer.

  1. After conducting in-depth interviews with a number of possible candidates for the position of recreationalist, we have decided to offer the job to you.

After much deliberation, we have decided to offer you the position.

Eliminating Redundancies:

  1. In the final outcome, we expect to see that important foreign imports will continue to maintain a positive current trend.

  2. The environmental committee will refer back to its minutes to learn more about the past history of this vitally important project.

Bibliography

Smith, R. D. (2011). Becoming a Public Relations Writer: A Writing Workbook for Emerging and Established Media. New York: Routledge.

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