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I'll Take It Plain, Thanks!

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I really love Seth Godin's book, Purple Cow, where he says "You're either a Purple Cow or you're not. You're either remarkable or invisible. Make your choice." But what I'm about to say may seem to be the opposite of this sentiment: the best writing is plain.

I don't mean boring and I don't mean dumbed down. I'm referring to the Plain Language style of writing. 

"Plain language is clear, succinct writing designed to ensure the reader understands as quickly and completely as possible. Plain language strives to be easy to read, understand, and use. It avoids verbose, convoluted language and jargon. In many countries, laws mandate that public agencies use plain language to increase access to programs and services." [source]

I realize that some funders will expect to see certain kinds of buzzwords or jargon but for the most part, grant reviewers will greatly appreciate a narrative written in plain language. 

A few years ago a I wrote a plain language proposal for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. One of the greatest things about the process was that applicants were allowed to listen in by phone as the grant panelists reviewed our proposals. Mine got high marks and I will never forget this comment from one of the panelists:  "This narrative was actually a pleasure to read." That's what you call validation.

If you have years of ingrained bad writing habits, it can be hard to resist the impulse to fancy it up or fall back on clichés. I find myself doing it when I'm mentally tired. Here are a few tools to help you out:


George Orwell's Rules for Writing

from Politics and the English Language

1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.


Clarity Rating Calculator >

This site will rate your text for clarity based on word, sentence, and paragraph length.


Photo Credit: athena. via Compfight cc

For me, fundraising and communications go together like peanut butter and jelly – delicious & filling!

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