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10 dopey things people working in the community should never, ever do (12 Sep 12)

If no one turned up at your last event maybe it’s because you didn’t interest them

Some time ago I reviewed some newsletters sent out by community workers.

Quite frankly I was shocked. I wondered how the poor folk they were aimed at could possibly have understood them

By “the poor folk they were aimed at” I mean anybody not a community worker.

They were full of long, unwieldy sentences and paragraphs, put together so as to make comprehension nigh on impossible. They were also full of unfamiliar words and dreary jargon – “empowerment strategies”, “benchmarking”, “devolved neighbourhood services” and “developing local capacity to tackle health inequalities”.

I guarantee they would have achieved exactly the opposite of what was intended. They would have actually put people off getting involved.

What is going on here? How on earth can we reach the most disadvantaged people, those whose first language might not even be English, those with a limited reading age or young people with far more interesting things on their minds, when we use words and expressions normal people are not remotely familiar with?

In fact the only people who can understand it are the colleagues of the authors.

I really worry that community workers think all they have to do is invite people to an event and provided they tick all the equal opportunities boxes by offering transport, interpreters, help with child care and venues which are fully accessible for disabled people, their job is finished. If it fails it’s someone else’s fault.

I couldn’t agree more that these inducements are essential. But you can’t stop there. Good marketing is a lot more complicated. Unfortunately it’s also very hard work.

But done properly it will save your organisation heaps of money and you will attract people you have never seen before.

Rather than tell you what to do let me tell you 10 things not to do based on the newsletters I saw recently. And the good news is that every one of these points fits in perfectly with your work. Let me know if I have missed anything out.

By far and away the most important thing to avoid is jargon.

This is the single biggest bucket of cold water you can throw on your readers. By jargon I mean words or expressions that mean nothing to them. They might mean something to you and your colleagues but if they don’t mean anything to your readers you may as well be writing gobbledegook.

To give you an example of jargon I found the following on the website of a national organisation who seek to encourage community involvement.

Community leadership is crucial in the effort to increase democratic participation, improve the performance of public services, devolve services, planning and delivery to neighborhoods and promote community cohesion.

To avoid using jargon, try to write more or less the way you speak. This doesn’t mean literally, but you should try to make your writing sound personal, as though you were talking to someone.

If you see a word people might not understand try to find an everyday equivalent.

Always read your work aloud and even better get another person to do so. But avoid getting your colleague who sits opposite - they will use the same jargon as you.

Try to get someone from the audience you are writing for to read it, or at least get someone who doesn’t know a lot about the subject to read it. If they struggle to understand it you have a problem.

Avoid writing about what interests you and concentrate on what interests your readers and their community.

Community work is meant to be about the people you work with, not you.

If you want to involve the community, for heaven’s sake think about what interests them. It’s as simple as that

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Comment by Michael Radian — 11 Jan 11 at 17:13:38

An interesting question is: why do we write like this?

Is it laziness? Or, we don't understand what it means either but are too afraid to say so?

Or because we're really writing for stakeholders to show them that we're on their case?

Why not join the discussion!

Or even better still offer your own advice and tell us about things that others can learn from.

We moderate comments lightly so bear with us and we'll get your thoughts listed as soon as we can.

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