Category Archives: language

Six months in New Zealand!

From February to July I’m spending six months away from Paris, in my hometown – Wellington, New Zealand. My kids are getting a dose of their second country (and a dose of English!)

I’ll do a few writing workshops in New Zealand and Australia while I’m on this side of the world. And I’ll be heading back to Europe at least once, to keep up with demand for my workshops: in late March I’ll be in London, Paris and Vienna.

The rest of the time I’ll be editing at a distance for regular clients like the OECD, the African Development Bank and the Africa Progress Panel.

Workshops in Nairobi, Vienna and Geneva

My next one-day open writing workshops will take me to Nairobi (November 8), Vienna (November 16) and Geneva (November 22). This will be my first trip to Nairobi. I’ve long wanted to go there, and many international organisations have staff there. I’ll be training people from Amnesty International, Christian Aid, International Rescue Committee and the New Partnership for Africa Development (NEPAD).

Two workshops in Wellington!

In late July I’m taking my roadshow to my hometown. I’ll be giving two workshops in Wellington, with a focus on the needs of New Zealand government staff: Writing for International Audiences (July 25) and Writing for Change: Policy and Communications (July 26). More information here.

I’m looking forward to talking with participants about the need to make the leap from a technical, problem-oriented perspective to a solution-oriented, policy approach — while leaving the jargon behind.

On the way to New Zealand, I’ll stop off in Singapore to give a joint workshop for the Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the World Intellectual Property Organisation.

Coming up: Vienna and Addis Ababa

On May 23 I’ll be in Vienna to give an open writing workshop for UN and NGO staff – there are a few places left. Then I’ll be going back to Addis Ababa to give an open workshop on June 29 (and a workshop for World Bank staff).  In the meantime, I’m giving workshops for the Overseas Development Institute (London) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (Geneva).

An open workshop in Geneva, February 24, 2016

It’s a while since I updated this blog. I’ve been busy! I’ve given 40 workshops to more than 420 people since I began them in November 2013.

Most of my workshops are in-house now, for organisations such as the Global Fund, Gavi (the Vaccine Alliance), UNESCO, the OECD and – most recently – Save the Children. But on February 24 I will be giving an open workshop in Geneva. There are just a couple of places left, so be quick if you want to attend. More details here.

When writing well makes all the difference in the world

It’s 14 months since my first workshop on writing and editing for international organizations, in Geneva on November 25, 2013. I was nervous as hell, and I’d foolishly agreed to let too many people come along – 18, instead of the limit of 12 I set myself now.

But it went OK, as it happens, and it led to many more: I’ve done 12 workshops since then, in Brussels, Geneva, London and Paris – some open to all, some in-house. I’ve led four workshops at Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (Geneva); one for the Overseas Development Institute (London); and one for the OECD Public Economics Division (Paris).

On Monday, January 26, and Tuesday, January 27, I’m back in Geneva giving two workshops for staff from a wide range of agencies, including the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the World Trade Organization.

After that I’m heading to Vienna the first week of March, to give an open workshop. Later in the year I plan to give three workshops in Addis Ababa to staff from the United Nations, the African Union and NGOs.

Why is it so important for people in UN agencies and NGOs to write clearly and concisely? To give one example, some of the global development goals established in 2000 (the Millennium Development Goals) weren’t clearly defined – and those are the ones that have witnessed the least progress.

I saw this effect close-up during the four years I edited the UN’s major annual education report, the EFA Global Monitoring Report. For example, the third Education for All goal, on youth and adult skills, has received the least attention, by far – and it’s the goal that was most poorly defined.

In my workshops, I encourage participants to analyse their goals. Do you want just to inform, passing on information or data? Or to explain, analyse or interpret that data? Or do you want to persuade people that what you have to say is important?  Or – to go one step further – do you want to propose action,  and motivate readers to change the way they act?

These four levels – informing, explaining, persuading and motivating – are at the heart of the writing and editing process. Informing and explaining are easier – that’s the technical half of the job, where many people feel most comfortable. Persuading and motivating are much more political. They take courage – and conviction that the data and interpretation that you have to offer are sound and important.

In my workshops, I try to push people towards saying what needs to be said. Because it might just make all the difference in the world.

Grain, fish, money: changing ‘the Africa story’

APR2014-cover“Africa = aid.” For decades this has been the story about African development in the Western and global news media. The Africa Progress Report 2014, launched today, turns that story on its head – and calls into question what we mean when we talk about “development.”

The report is called Grain, Fish, Money: Financing Africa’s Green and Blue Revolutions, and I was lucky enough to have the job of editing it. The report asks the hard questions about why Africa’s recent growth isn’t helping a lot of Africans.

The answer is reflected in the report’s title (and stunning cover). Africa is still overwhelmingly rural. “Development” in Africa has to mean economic development. That means African governments (with a bit of help from their friends) need to give farmers (and fishing communities) a much better chance.

Africa imports US$35 billion of food every year– food that could be supplied by African farmers themselves, if they had a chance to boost their productivity. Farmers need governments and investors to bridge the gaps in  infrastructure and financial services that are currently holding them back. The need for aid won’t go away soon, especially in the poorest countries. But it will go away faster if donors also help build those bridges (and roads, and ports).

There’s plenty else in the report – including some tough words about the plunder of Africa’s fisheries by foreign trawlers, especially boats from East Asia and Russia. That’s the story picked up today by the Financial Times and The Guardian.

What stands out for me is the idea that Kofi Annan expresses in the Wall Street Journal this morning: “Africa is a continent of great wealth. It is not poor.” Annan founded the Africa Progress Panel after retiring as UN secretary-general; his vision drives the Africa Progress Report.

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Taking the plunge

black-diver-diver-mdI’m going full-time freelance at the beginning of June, after four years working part-time at UNESCO as editor of the EFA Global Monitoring Report, the United Nations’ major annual survey of education around the world. That means I’ll have more time for editing and leading workshops – and for writing about language and development.

When I’m editing for UN agencies and non-government groups, I’m struck by  how eager people are to reach for the ready-made words and phrases that circulate within the development world. Very often those terms aren’t familiar to non-specialist readers. So important findings and calls to action don’t reach their targets – including the decision-makers who have the power to act on them, and the citizens and voters who can put pressure on leaders to act.

I want to unpack some of those terms on this blog, and suggest alternatives. I also want to highlight good examples of writing about development – and ways to improve writing that misses the mark.

I’ll also link to writing by others who keep an eye on the politics of good and bad writing – like Good Copy, Bad Copy, Steven Poole, the Plain English Campaign and the Center for Plain Language.