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…)


* Still. Hence this update with added footnotes to a post originally from 2012.
** Possibly, probably, perhaps. Or someone else.
*** Thanks to Tim Leunig for this tip.