Monthly Archives: January 2015

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.