Why Virginia Woolf was wrong about words
Virginia Woolf once said that “when words are pinned down they fold their wings and die”.
While reluctant to argue with one of the greatest writers of all time, I believe there are occasions when you need to do exactly that: pin words down. Clip their wings. Keep them under control. If you’re establishing a new brand or refreshing your tone of voice, you need to be particularly possessive.
Luckily, there are lots of tools you can create to help you achieve this within your charity.
Start by gathering examples of communications from across your organisation. Include a wide range: from Facebook posts and tweets to supporter newsletters, fundraising packs to annual reports. Pick out examples that successfully reflect your tone, as well as ones that miss the mark.
Use them to help you develop some of the following tools to share with your colleagues:
- Tone of voice guide. This is to help people in your organisation write in a way that reflects who you are, what you do, and what you stand for. Make sure you include plenty of examples. If you’ve found lots of phrases or sentences that aren’t working while reviewing your communications, rewrite them. Show ‘before’ and ‘after’ in your guide. Explain what was wrong and how you’ve changed it. You might want to draw up a list of ‘words and phrases to avoid’.
- Interactive workshop. Lots of people won’t read your tone of voice document. Others will read it and have no idea how it relates to their day-to-day work. So prepare a short, interactive workshop to bring your tone of voice document to life. You could include a quick refresher guide to what makes good copy, including common mistakes and how to avoid them. Put together a general outline for the workshop and add different examples for each of your key teams.
- Series of factsheets. Create one for each area of your work. These could include facts, statistics, quotes and key messages which staff can use when they’re writing about one of your services or activities. Update them every six months.
- Case study ‘database’. Populate it with strong quotes and personal stories that illustrate your impact.
The more tools you give your people in your organisation, the more chance you’ll have of building a strong tone of voice that colleagues use and supporters recognise and respond to. So ignore Woolf (sorry Virginia) and keep a firm grip on those words.
Need some help pinning down your words? Get in touch.
Thanks to Brain Pickings for the inspiration.