Want Your Writing to Flow Better? Try These Five Things.

[This is the latest weekly post from our intern, Tessa. You can find all her posts here.]


Did you ever read a letter from a nonprofit and feel that something was not quite right? Maybe you found it hard to read and weren’t sure why. When writing, you want your flow to be as “on” as possible. Here are five things to remember that will make your flow as smooth as possible.

1. Be Consistent

Inconsistency is one of my pet peeves. If you capitalize a noun in one place, make sure you capitalize that noun every time you mention it again. For example, The French Club shouldn’t evolve into the French Club or the French club throughout your piece. The same goes for abbreviations. If you introduce an abbreviation at the beginning of a letter, don’t start referring to it by its full name again half way through. People will get confused.

2. Don’t Liberally Toss Your Articles Around

I read a cooking article the other day that mentioned four things: The peppers, the onions, the carrots, and the garlic. Four words there are unnecessary. The whole thing is bulky. Keep it to peppers, onions, carrots and garlic. Only use articles like the, a, and an when they’re required.

3. Alliteration is Nice

If you can swing it, throw some alliteration into your piece. Clear, concise and compelling flows better than clear, brief and engaging. (By the way, you should be all of these things.)

4. Write in Threes

I’ve done a whole blog post dedicated to this topic, but I’ll summarize here. There is something about the number three that sticks in people’s heads and makes your writing or speaking sound better. If you have two and can come up with a third reason, adjective or example – do it. The same applies if you have four and can eliminate one.

5. Split Up Your Sentences

There’s no benefit to a sentence with three conjunctions, six commas, and endless words. When you can, split up your clauses into independent sentences. It will be easier to read and understand, I promise!

5 Online Tools to Help You Write

Let’s be honest – good writing is hard work.

 Frustrated Writer 2

Yet so much of your nonprofit’s success depends on the words you use and how you use them. These words can come in the form of text on your website, donation appeals, annual reports – even the e-mail you send to a prospective donor. Writing is everywhere in your organization. Here are my five favorite online tools to help with various aspects of the writing process: finding content, having clarity, and staying focused.

  1. HubSpot’s Blog Topic Generator
    This one is for all you fellow bloggers out there. As you probably know well, sometimes it’s hard to find fresh content to write about. You want to be informative, relevant and valuable to your readers… but you sometimes you flat out don’t know what to say. The blog topic generator can help get your thought process started and give you topics ideas.
  2. WordCounter
    No one likes to read a paragraph with the same word used over and over and over. WordCounter can take a block of text and tell you which words you’re using the most. You might be surprised at how you overuse a certain word or words. Then you can go back to your text and find more creative ways to tell your story.
  3. Readability-Score.com
    This is an online version of the Flesch-Kindcaid readability tests feature of Microsoft Outlook and Word. It uses a formula to rate the readability of your text, using a scale from 0 to 100. The closer you are to 100, the easier your writing is to understand. It also gives you an average grade level score – for example, a grade level 8 means that someone with 8 years of education could easily understand your writing. If you find yourself writing for high school or graduate level audiences, you may want to ease up on the big words.
  4. Cliché Finder 
    According to Merriam-Webster, clichés are: “1.  a phrase or expression that has been used so often that it is no longer original or interesting. 2. something that is so commonly used in books, stories, etc., that it is no longer effective.” Overused,uninteresting, and ineffective. That doesn’t seem like what you want. It’s okay to clichés every now and again, but don’t get into the habit of relying heavily on them. This tool will find all the clichés in your writing, so you can make the choice to choose a different, more unique, and more memorable phrase.
  5. Written? Kitten!
    This one is my absolute favorite; I’ve actually blogged about it before. When you write a certain number of words (decided by you), you get rewarded with a picture of a cute cat. It’s a tool to keep you writing and keeps the ideas flowing. You can always edit later. What happens if you’re not a cat lover, you may ask? You can substitute the “kitten” for whatever you want. Do roses make you really happy? Add  /?search=roses after the Written Kitten URL, and this is what you get! Substitute “roses” for “puppies”, “sea creatures”, “mountains”, “cocktails” – whatever keeps YOU motivated!

8 Quick, Easy Tips to Boost Engagement

8 Quick Tips

Crafting messaging for your nonprofit can be hard work. How do you get someone to hear your message, let alone remember it?

No one-size-fits-all formula for engaging writing exists– especially since each of us have a different audience. However, these 8 easy-to-follow tips will likely increase your listeners’ engagement, no matter who your audience.

  1. Use Active Voice
    A few months ago, I wrote a post about how to convey confidence through writing. Confidence gives the impression that you really know your stuff, and that’s important. The number one way to convey confidence is to write with an active voice. This means reducing your number of “to be” verbs such as “are”, “is”, “was” and “will be”. “We are preserving the environment” and “Our building is a safe space for homeless youth” improve with just a few minor adjustments: “We preserve the environment” and “Our building offers homeless youth a safe space.”
  2. Involve Your Listener
    We all want to feel like we’re a part of something. See my post on You and Your for advice on how to bring your listener into your story.
  3. Tell a Story
    Speaking of your story, make sure you’re telling one! You may think the facts will speak for themselves, but without a story to frame them in, people will forget them or overlook them all together. It’s in our nature as humans to enjoy and respond to stories. So, pick a good one and get writing. And promise to tell true stories, because people can see through a lie or embellishment.
  4. Be Clear
    Don’t use sentences that last for nearly a paragraph. Don’t use fancy, long words that people have to stop and think about what they mean. And don’t use jargon that only people within your organization will understand. Your listener will appreciate it.
  5. Choose Better Words
    We’ve have a whole series on word choice called #WordsThatWow. Check it out!
  6. Keep it Short
    There’s nothing worse than a three-page letter from a nonprofit, a webpage that requires an extraordinary amount of scrolling to get to the bottom, or a person that talks for five minutes straight when asked about their organization. Know your key information, and figure out the easiest way to say it.
  7. Leave Room for Inquiry
    You want people to engage with you. If you spew out pages upon pages of everything anyone could possibly want to know about your organization, you close to door to inquiry. Say enough to get people interested. Interested enough to ask more questions.
  8. Be Yourself 
    No one wants to feel like they’re talking with a robot. Let your personality and the personality of your organization shine. People relate to other people, not distant-sounding, colorless words.

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?