Five things Winston Churchill can teach writers

Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965) English: Winst...

Although Winston Churchill made mistakes his communication skills were second to none

A great post from Clare Lynch on Ragan’s PR Daily looks at the speech Winston Churchill made after the fall of France during the Second World War.

This was one of the lowest points for Britain during the war and Churchill doesn’t sugar coat the pill.

Lynch wisely uses the speech as a lesson for managers and executives steering them away from the corporate double-speak which inspires no-one and leaves everyone confused.

Churchill was a great communicator. If you need help polishing your writing or speeches, get in touch with me. I can help.

5 writing tips from Winston Churchill

Not on my time frame

If you Google the phrases “time frame” and “editorial style” you’ll find advice telling you to spell the first term as two words, not one. None of them say whether you should or shouldn’t use the phrase.

I say time frame is best avoided.

According to the Oxford dictionaries the time frame is a noun meaning:

a specified period of time in which something occurs or is planned to take place: the work had to be done in a time frame of fourteen working days

Which is fair enough. Although it would be far better to say (or write): “You’ve got fourteen days to do the work”.

Time frame is one of those business jargon phrases used to pad out sentences and allegedly make the speaker sound knowledgeable. I hear it and think the speaker is a windbag.

Can you write about management without jargon?

It is best not to use jargon. You may think otherwise, but it makes your writing harder to understand.

After writing about the virtues of easy-to-read writing, I re-read earlier stories on this site and found shocking examples of management jargon.

For example, in Managing change: keeping a lid on panic I wrote about ‘participative management’.

Could I have written the story without using jargon?

Ambiguous language, bad language

‘Participative management is ambiguous – it could mean a number of things. And the five syllable word ‘participative’ worries me on a number of fronts.

The phrase is typical of the highfalutin jargon-laden nonsense empty-headed bosses puff themselves up with.

Yes, I confess it is bad. Yet I don’t think it would be possible to write about the subject without using the term.

I thought of going back and changing the term to ‘open management’. The term is still a tad wanky and ambiguous, but ‘open’ is miles better than ‘participative’.

Warning: Jargon

The problem is, nobody understands what the term ‘open management’ means. You could almost say the same about ‘participative management’. But management experts and academics understand the term.

Google lists 170,000 entries for ‘participative management’. They mainly refer to the same thing.

It lists 73,000 entries for ‘open management’. One look at the first page of entries shows the term used in a variety of ways – in some cases for complicated information technology things.

So, it looks as if we are stuck with ‘participative management’ and hundreds of other management terms. In my next post we’ll look at how to use them and not lose our readers.

Avoid these traps for your readers

Your job as a writer is to get your message across clearly and quickly.

One way you can sabotage communication is by laying traps for readers. They stop a reader’s flow as their eye scans over text.

Punctuation – as the name suggests – stops flow. This is why I leave out optional commas.

You can also slow down a reader’s flow when you use capital letters incorrectly. For the same reason you should never write a word entirely in capitals.

Likewise I don’t use the ‘&’ symbol – instead I write ‘and’. The exception to this rule is when the ‘&’ forms part of a company’s name.

The same applies to ‘+’.

It is also better to write out percent in full than use %. Although some newspapers, including one where I work, insists on using the symbol.

Never resort to phone text-style language in anything written for a wider audience. It isn’t funny, clever or useful.