Updated May 2023
Effective advocacy includes the voices of people directly involved in the cause. These "ambassadors" bring authentic, front-lines voices to outreach and are vital to successful advocacy campaigns. Some people love speaking at events and rallies, lobbying decision-makers or doing other important volunteer activities. Some prefer to put their thoughts in writing, in the form of guest columns, blogs, op-eds and personal essays. Others would be effective advocates, but lack confidence in their writing skills.
Regardless of the forum, every advocate benefits from being a more effective writer. I've pulled together an easy-to-use playbook to guide allies in leveling up their writing games.
5 steps to stronger advocacy writing
More influential advocacy writing is built on a strong foundation. Here are 5 steps to help ambassadors communicate more effectively:
1. Understand the traits of good advocacy writing
If you read enough persuasive and opinion writing, you start to notice traits that the most effective pieces share. I've been informally surveying advocates for years in my advocacy writing workshops and keeping track of what makes certain pieces resonate and have noticed that the best work:
- Has a compelling beginning to pique interest
- Presents a clear point of view/opinion and main idea
- Sounds like it's written by a real person
- Includes sufficient data, examples and explanations
- Conveys emotion to show importance and urgency
- Provides a reasonable scope
- Offers a clear think, feel and/or do
- Follows a logical path from start to finish
- Concludes with a strong thought/call to action
When we understand what makes effective advocacy writing, we can check our writing against the traits and revise our work to better meet them.
Action Item: Make your own list of traits. When you read an opinion or persuasive piece that speaks to you, see what you notice about it. Make a list of these traits and hold onto the examples so you can reference them next time you have to write.
2. Identify a good angle
The topic is the subject, like Medicaid expansion or stormwater management. The angle is your take on that topic based on your experience and perspective. Why do you care? What's the aspect of the topic that matters most to you? The best angles combine your passion and your knowledge.
Action Item: Use this set of t-charts to identify solid topics and angles for advocacy writing.
3. Find your voice
A clear and strong voice is vital to successful advocacy work. When we bring our voice to our writing, we make the topic more human. We improve the chances of a connection with the reader. In the broadest sense, voice is influenced by the angles and ideas we share. On a technical level, writing voice is created by our vocabulary and sentence structure. For example, if we use a lot of jargon correctly, our voice is formal and informed. If we use colloquialisms like "tighter than a possum on a trash can" our voice is folksy and friendly. The sentences we put those words in create a rhythm and flow. Lots of short sentences often leads to a bossy or transactional voice. Several long sentences (especially if not carefully punctuated) produces a rambling voice. Varying vocab and sentence construction creates your voice. Your writer's personality should be you, of course, but a version of you that's appropriate for the audience. For instance, I hear myself speaking differently when I talk to someone I admire, especially an elder (I sit up straighter, too, for some reason).
Action Item: Next time you have to write an advocacy piece (or anything, honestly), think about the adjectives that describe your voice and the organization's voice. How do they align?
4. Pre-write & draft
The purpose of advocacy writing is to move people to think, feel or do something. (As far as I'm concerned this is the purpose of all writing or at least nonfiction.) This requires two things: an understanding of your audience's concerns and questions and a clear statement of goals.
Action Item: Use pre-writing to capture these concepts and flesh out your angle in that context. Here's the tooI I use, the People-Information-Goals Strategy©, to gather the information I need to write a draft.
5. Embrace revision
Revision is where the action is. A draft is a fast attempt at getting your thoughts together on the page. It's not supposed to be our best writing. That's what revision is for.
Action Item: At the very least, look over your draft to make sure the voice is appropriate for the audience, that the main idea is crystal clear and that the details support your point and address audience concerns, questions and objections. Make those changes, do a quick proofread for spelling and grammar (Grammarly is great for this) and either hand it off to someone else to review or turn it in.
Advocacy writing examples and tips
- Want more advice on advocacy writing? Download the free Power of Your Ideas playbook.
- Ready to level up your writing skills? Schedule a 15-minute call to learn about writing coaching.
- Interested in training staff, board or volunteer advocates? Contact me about a virtual or live (socially distanced) advocacy writing workshop.