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Writing for others

How can you use your writing skills to help your voice reach people around the world?

Text, Audience and Purpose

Writing for others (your text) depends on who you are writing for (your audience) and why you are writing (your purpose). What works well in one situation may not work in another.

So begin by thinking about:

  • Text
  • Audience
  • Purpose

This will help you decide the right ‘tone of voice’ for your writing. The main question to ask first is whether your writing should be formal or informal.

Testing your writing skills

Read the following text:

We were delighted this week to discover that twenty-six of our Year Ten Oxfam Youth Ambassadors have been awarded the official Oxfam Youth Ambassador badges.

This makes us one of the most successful Oxfam Youth Ambassador Groups in the UK! Over the last academic year students have been keeping a record of where they have demonstrated three core skills: leadership, active participation and having a voice.

All of the students presented overwhelming evidence of their involvement to successfully earn the official badge.

Well done all!

Who do you think the audience was and what do you think was the purpose of this text?

Answer: The text appeared in a newsletter on Woodside High School’s website in the UK.

Its audience was members of the school community; students, parents, teachers and visitors to the school.

Its purpose was to celebrate the achievements of the Youth Ambassadors, celebrate students’ successes and promote the achievements of the school.

Adapt and redraft the text for the following audiences and purposes. Complete at least two.

  Purpose 1
Persuade your audience that
Youth Ambassadors is a good project
Purpose 2
Explain what Youth Ambassadors do
Audience 1
15 year-olds
[Write your text here] [Write your text here]
Audience 2
The Head Teacher
[Write your text here] [Write your text here]

There are additional activities about formal and informal writing here. Here are tips for writing a formal letter in the following languages:

Writing styles

There are many writing styles you may use to write for others. Which style(s) you use depends on your audience and your purpose. Here are some examples:

Argue Persuade Advise
Explore Imagine Entertain
Inform Explain Describe
Analyse Review Comment

Adapted from the BBC

One of the main writing styles used in campaigns is persuasion.

Develop your powers of persuasion

What does the word ‘persuasion’ mean to you? Think of sentences with words like ‘persuasion’, ‘persuasive’ and ‘persuaded’. For example: ‘I was going to watch TV but she persuaded me to see a film.’

Have you ever persuaded someone to think or act differently? How did you do this? Has anyone ever persuaded you to do something? What did they say or do?

Now you’ve thought about persuasion, draw a persuasion circle-map. It will look something like this:

Write your name in the circle in the middle of the page. Then write the names of people who have persuaded you to think or act differently in circles around your name. Put people who influenced you the most, closest to the centre. Make a note of what they said or did.

Next draw another persuasion circle-map. This time, write the name of the person you wish to persuade in the middle of the page. In the circles write down how to persuade them. Put your best plans closest to the centre and the plans you’re not as sure about further away.

Adapted from Send My Friend to School

Tips for persuasion

The main thing to think about is that you only need to present your side of the argument. For example, if you wanted to persuade a decision maker that every child should go to school, you would concentrate on all the positive reasons why every child should go to school. You would not argue against yourself and say that school does not really matter.

Whether you write formally or informally the tips remain the same.

Be confident and sure
Believe in what you are writing and ask for an action.
‘Now is the time for you to….’
Be positive
Focus on showing how strong your points are, not how weak the opposite points are.
Repeat yourself
Repeat your main points several times.
Be personal
Saying ‘I’ or ‘We’ makes people feel you believe what you’re saying.
Use questions
This engages your audience. ‘Why don’t all children go to school? Here’s why…’
Use feelings to push ideas
Use emotional language: ‘It’s outrageous that so many children don’t go to school.’

Adapted from the BBC

Critiquing a persuasive blog

This persuasive blog was written by Mayowa, an Oxfam Youth Ambassador.

Campaigning against the arms trade - in a tank/ Oxfam GB
I chose to get involved in the control arms campaign because the fact that 747,000 people die each year due to armed violence truly shocked me. What shocked me even more was that we currently have more regulations on the trade of bananas than on the international trade of guns. As a result of this, it became obvious to me why dangerous firearms end up in the hands of the wrong people including warlords and human rights abusers.

When we look at recent conflicts, for example Syria, we can see the disastrous effects firearms can have on helpless civilians. I often ask myself, if there had been a global arms trade treaty could we have prevented the number of innocent civilians dying, particularly children? I also try to imagine what I would feel if my own family were involved in such a conflict and how I would do everything in my power to protect them. This is what truly inspired me to get involved in the control arms campaign as, although I may not be biologically related to those involved in such conflicts, I still believe all human beings have the responsibility to protect one another as much as possible.

But time is running out. The UN conference where over 150 governments will meet throughout July to discuss a new Global Arms Trade Treaty has already begun. If an effective treaty is agreed, this could help prevent weapons falling into the wrong hands to help to save thousands of lives. Please add your voice to the Control Arms campaign by adding your name to our petition. We have one shot for a bulletproof arms treaty in 2012. Let’s make it count!

The global Control Arms campaign to regulate the arms trade was a success and the United Nations passed the Arms Trade Treaty on 24 December 2014. The treaty has been signed by 130 countries.

Review the blog
  • Read the tips for persuasive writing. Highlight any passages in the blog which follow the tips. How successful do you think the author was at writing the blog in a persuasive style?
  • Rewrite the information in the blog as a formal letter persuading a decision-maker to take action on the arms trade.

There is a revision exercise to help you identify and develop persuasive writing here.

Writing to a decision maker

Writing to a busy decision-maker (for example, the School Principal, the Mayor, a Member of Parliament) has its own challenges. For example, Members of a country’s Parliament may receive more than 200 letters per day. Even your School Principal will be responding to a large number of emails and phone calls every day. So you need to get your message across quickly and effectively. Your letter shouldn’t be an essay!

Therefore:

  • Keep your letter brief. It should be no longer than one side of A4.
  • Lay your letter out clearly with short and distinct paragraphs. Stick to one or two main points.
  • Pay careful attention to spelling, punctuation and grammar.
  • Your tone should be formal but friendly. Never adopt a hostile tone, even if you strongly disagree with your recipient’s beliefs or actions.
  • Include some key evidence to support your points.
  • Finish by asking your recipient to do something on your behalf.

Be prepared to follow up!