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Don’t Write Crappy Content

I’ve often wished for a short guide to help my interns break all the bad habits that academic writing instills in them.

Jocelyn Harmon’s in Fundraising Success Magazine, “Don’t Write Crappy Content,” is a pretty good start.

Her main points are:

  1. Write to one person
  2. Use active vs. passive voice
  3. Make an outline
  4. Speaking of stories … tell one!
  5. Edit, edit and edit some more
  6. Add images
  7. Bonus: Use metaphors

Consider giving it a read, unless you’re one of my interns, in which case I will be insisting you read it before writing for me.

Anatomy of a great action alert

The Friends Committee on National Legislation just issued a top-notch action alert. Let’s take a look at what makes it great.

Subject Line: Action:  Cluster Bomb Senate Call in Day Nov. 5

Clear, to the point. There’s no doubt what your getting into and when you need to act.

Paragraph 1: You really can’t imagine the effect of a cluster bomb until you’re sitting across the table from Raed Mokaled. “I am sure Ahmed was not a criminal. He was not a terrorist,” Raed told us last week at a briefing in our building here in Washington, DC. He then described how his 5-year-old son Ahmed was killed by a U.S-made cluster munition that he picked up while playing at his own 5th birthday party in southern Lebanon.

This is  a great lead paragraph! I get dozens of action alerts a day, most of which I don’t read. This one got my attention.

Why? It does what few action alerts does. It tells a story and makes the issue real. It moves cluster bombs from being some distant and amorphous policy issue to a real concern about real people–including 5-year old Ahmed.

Paragraph 2: The U.S. has a stockpile of nearly 1 billion cluster “bombies,” the sub-munitions that a cluster bomb contains. You can help keep these bombs out of the hands of children. On November 5, tens of thousands of people around the world will be urging their governments to ban cluster bombs. FCNL is joining with the US Fund for UNICEF, Amnesty International USA, Adopt-A-Minefield, UNA-USA, and many other groups to call on senators to cosponsor the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act (S. 594). You can help. Ask five friends to make a call , and put a note in your calendar to call Monday. FCNL has set up a toll-free number for you to make your calls – see more details below.

Okay, I actually think this is a bit too fact-filled for a 2nd paragraph, I would have put the co-sponsors lower down in the alert, but their clear and powerful ask is great. What I really like is that it is more than just asking you to call, it invites you to organize and recruit more people. And they make it easy to do that–the link is to a “tell a friend” page.

Paragraph 3: The Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act would prevent the U.S. military from using cluster bombs in areas where civilians are known to be present. But the Bush administration says the military benefits outweigh the civilian costs. The bill currently has 12 cosponsors. We need many more—from both parties—to move this bill to a vote in the coming year.

This does a good job of creating context for why the call-in day is important and how it can make a difference.

Call to action: Encourage your friends and families to participate in the national call-in day, and remember to call yourself on Monday. Urge your senators to cosponsor the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act (S.594) and ensure its passage in the coming year.

Spread the word in your community – download a flyer or print out the background in this email. Let people know that this day of action is a first step in a campaign over the next year to build support for a cluster bomb ban.

 These 2 short paragraphs reiterate the main action (invite your friends) and give you more tools to do just that. They also repeat the link to the “tell a friend” page. Good move, I didn’t click on it until this second link.

The action alert follows with a link to Raed’s story and background information of the issue.