How to write, with the help of Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway and Tim Leunig

How to speak. That’s a common topic in training for would-be candidates and a frequent chapter in books for would-be campaigners. How to write? Much less so.

That’s an omission I plead guilty to, for 101 Ways To Win An Election has a chapter called “Making speeches” with no accompanying “Writing words”. Implicit in many of the other chapters are ideas that will help you to write effectively. Yet on reflection there should really have been explicit advice too.

Short, sharp writing has always been important for leaflets and news releases. These days, with the opportunities for blogs, tweets, emails and more there is even greater scope for candidates and campaigners to prosper thanks to good writing skills.

Here then are four tips to compensate for that omission:

  1. Remember the power of brevity. It’s hard, but powerful. As Mark Twain put it, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter so I wrote this long one”.
  2. Follow Ernest Hemingway’s excellent 5 tips.
  3. For longer pieces, make sure the Flesch-Kincaid reading level score is low. (Microsoft Word has an easy menu item to calculate the score, for example.)*
  4. Structure your paragraphs and your story.
(Read those links and you will also see what is wrong with that list…)

* Thanks to Tim Leunig for this tip.

* Mark Pack is a member of the Federal Board and editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

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This entry was posted in Campaign Corner.


  • Richard Dean 3rd Sep '12 - 3:45pm

    I was told by an eminent professor to

    > put the most important stuff first, like in a newspaper.
    > keep words, sentences, and paragraphs short
    > make “it” always refer to the last mentioned noun
    > look out for missing words – particularly “not”!
    > get an independent proofreader – sentencs can mean different things to different people
    > spellcheck before printing, using English spelling

    Reporters put the key information first partly because readers will be using the first few sentences to judge whether to read further or not, and partly because the longer the article the more likely the edutor will chop its end off

    The rule about it is important because readers turn off when they get lost. If your last sentence is a about a ghost, then starting the next sentence with “It” makes the reader think “it” is the ghost, even though the sentence might go on as “… was undoubtely surprising that Aunt Augusta was oblivious to these goings on, and knitting happily by the fireside”

  • The best way to proofread, by the way, is to hold the text upside down and read it out loud, while putting your finger on each word. You are much more likely to spot a missing “not” that way, as it is relatively hard to skim read like that.

  • Simon Titley 4th Sep '12 - 12:01am

    Two more tips:

    1) Read George Orwell’s essay ‘Politics and the English Language’:

    2) Explore the resources on the Plain English Campaign’s website:

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