Political Speech Writing: How Candidates Can Craft Compelling Messages


Understanding the Power of Political Speeches

Political speeches play a pivotal role in shaping the course of nations and can shape the trajectory of societies. Effective speech writing for elections allows leaders to communicate their vision, values, and policy objectives to the public. These speeches serve as a means of persuasion, providing a platform for leaders to connect with their constituents emotionally. Through carefully tailoring speeches, a political oratory has the potential to inspire, mobilize, and unite people around common goals and ideals.

One key aspect of political speeches is their ability to inform and educate the public. In a democratic society, an informed citizenry is essential for making sound election decisions and understanding government policy implications. A well-done political oratory allows leaders to clarify their positions and present evidence and data. Speechwriting for elections often requires addressing complex issues and helping citizens make informed choices about how they want the country to move. Moreover, political speeches serve as a channel for transparency and accountability.

Beyond their informational role, a well-crafted political oratory fosters unity and social cohesion by containing messages of hope, unity and inclusivity. They can transcend political divides and unite people, transcending differences of opinion and background. In times of crisis or uncertainty, campaign speeches provide reassurance and a sense of purpose. Furthermore, campaign speeches help a nation navigate challenges and emerge stronger.

Well-crafted campaign speeches can be transformative in elections by serving as a dynamic tool for candidates to connect with voters, sway public opinion and ultimately change the outcome of an election. When a candidate speaks passionately about issues that resonate with your audience, it creates a sense of trust and authenticity by tapping into the electorate's hopes, fears, and aspirations.

Speechwriting for elections helps to clarify a candidate's policy positions and goals, providing voters with a clearer understanding of what they stand for, allowing them to set themselves apart from their opponents and creating a sense of confidence in their leadership. A well-crafted political speech can sway undecided voters to the candidate's side.

Rousing persuasive communication can galvanize volunteers and grassroots activists , encouraging them to work harder for the candidate, leading to a higher voter turnout among the candidate's base.

Steps to Effective Political Speechwriting

Here are five tips for crafting an effective political speech:

#1: Make time for research.

Digging deep to find relevant information is crucial when writing a political speech because it adds depth and credibility to the discourse. Great research also ensures that the political speech addresses the complexities of voters' concerns. A speechwriter can write informative and persuasive communication by seeking out comprehensive data.

#2: Consider your audience.

Analyzing a target audience is essential for understanding their demographics, values, beliefs, and concerns. It allows speechwriters to tailor their message to resonate with their intended listeners' specific needs and interests. This analysis enables speechwriters to speak directly to the heart of the issues that matter most to the target audience. It also helps avoid potential pitfalls, such as using language or framing that might alienate or offend specific target audience segments.

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#3: Draw on the elements of storytelling.

Storytelling in politics is essential for political speechwriters because it helps engage and persuade the audience effectively. Furthermore, storytelling in politics captures the audience's attention by connecting them emotionally with the message. The right message provides a relatable and human dimension to the content. Furthermore, storytelling in politics helps create a cohesive speech that flows seamlessly, ensuring listeners understand and retain key points. Whether it is rallying support for a candidate, advocating for a policy change, or fostering a sense of unity, a well-crafted narrative can convey a compelling vision for the future and ignite a sense of purpose among the audience.

#4: Set the right tone.

A campaign speech must set the right mood because the emotional tone and atmosphere it creates can significantly impact how the audience receives and responds to the message. By establishing a positive and receptive attitude, the audience is more likely to be engaged and attentive to the speaker's message, which can inspire hope, rally support, and forge meaningful connections. Crafting a political speech that is positive and relatable makes the audience more receptive to the speaker's arguments, so it is a vital political communication strategy. A speech promoting a mood of unity helps to bridge divides, bringing people together.

#5: Edit and practice ahead of time.

Editing and rehearsing a political speech is essential because it ensures the message is clear, concise and free from ambiguity. A well-edited speech enhances the speaker's credibility by demonstrating that the candidate has thoroughly researched and prepared their remarks. Therefore, giving speeches can be a key political communication strategy.

Practicing a speech allows the speaker to fine-tune their delivery and tone to maintain the audience's engagement. Furthermore, practice enables the speaker to reinforce the critical points of the speech, ensuring that they communicate central ideas in an easily memorable way.

Examples of Memorable Political Speeches

Let's turn our attention to some political speechwriting examples. These political speechwriting examples can serve as a powerful guide for candidates.

#1: Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address


Consider Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, as it is one of American history's most impactful political speeches. Presented during the Civil War at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the speech was concise, lasting just over two minutes, but its impact was profound. Lincoln eloquently emphasized the principles of equality and liberty and redefined the purpose of the American government as a "government of the people, by the people, for the people." This speech solidified the United States' commitment to democracy and freedom. It also marked a turning point in the Civil War, as it galvanized public sentiment and reinvigorated the Union's resolve to preserve the nation.

#2: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech

Martin Luther King - March on Washington

Another of the most impactful political speeches was Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, delivered during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. This political speechwriting example was pivotal in the American civil rights movement. King's eloquent articulation of his dream for a racially integrated and just society resonated deeply with millions. The speech helped mobilize support for civil rights legislation and highlighted the urgent need for racial equality. King's call for nonviolent protest and his vision for a future where individuals would be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin inspired generations of activists. It was crucial in advancing civil rights legislation, culminating in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

#3: Ronald Reagan’s “Tear Down This Wall” Speech

President Ronald Reagan making his Berlin Wall speech

One of the most impactful political speeches ever given was the one delivered at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin, during which President Ronald Reagan issued a powerful challenge to the Soviet Union by demanding, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" The Berlin Wall, which had divided East and West Berlin for decades, symbolized the Cold War's division. This political speechwriting example indicated the West's commitment to freedom and democracy. While the immediate impact of the speech was limited, it contributed to the eventual fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. Reagan's words resonated with people on both sides of the Iron Curtain, serving as a rallying cry for change.

Studying these speeches and tailoring speeches after them and other iconic speeches is a great way to learn public speaking strategies. These American political speeches share the theme of advocating for equality, justice and freedom. They transcended their immediate contexts to become lasting symbols of American ideals and continue inspiring generations of Americans and people worldwide. 

Here are some public speaking strategies to employ based on these inspirational speeches:

Ensure that the central theme of your political campaign communication resonates with the target audience and keep it at the forefront of the speech.

Using metaphors, similes, and emotionally resonant phrases to evoke powerful imagery and emotions in the audience is a critical speech delivery technique that can help your political campaign communications.

Understanding the audience's needs, aspirations, and concerns so that the message connects deeply is a speechwriting best practice you will want to remember.

Incorporating a clear and compelling call to action into the speech is an essential political communication strategy.

Be aware of historical contexts when crafting political persuasions for political campaign communications.

Align messages with the speaker's personality and values.

Employ strategic repetition to emphasize critical political persuasions because it will make them more memorable.

Use speech writing techniques to capture the speaker's authentic voice and beliefs.

Tips for Effective Speech Delivery

Candidates often ask speechwriters to give them speech delivery techniques. They may recommend several public speaking strategies that will help you with effective speech delivery. These include:

Using body gestures and body language to enhance the message's impact is a critical speech delivery technique as it helps convey confidence and credibility so that the audience connects to you better.

Connecting with the audience is paramount because it establishes rapport, fosters voter engagement and ensures the message resonates with the listeners personally. Therefore, it is crucial to remember this idea while focusing on speech delivery techniques as you build your political communication strategy.

Breathing deeply right before giving a speech is a vital speech delivery technique that can help you overcome stage fright as it calms nerves and boosts confidence.

Adapting Your Speech for Different Audiences

Among speech writing best practices is to adapt a speech to different audiences and your audience's demographics. This is essential for ensuring political persuasion as the message is relevant, relatable, and inclusive. Practicing this as you concentrate on other speech writing best practices ensures audience engagement occurs and that they will understand your messaging better.

Another key among speech writing best practices is remembering to be specific during a speech. This is vital as it adds credibility and clarity to the candidate messaging, helping to ensure audience engagement. Therefore, ensure that you use speech writing techniques for persuasive communication that address specific issues and concerns experienced by the audience.

Navigating Ethical Considerations in Political Speechwriting

Honesty is a fundamental pillar of trust and accountability in a democratic society, so when politicians are truthful in their political campaign messaging, they build integrity and foster the public's faith in their leadership. Citizens can make informed decisions when a politician uses truthful political campaign messaging. Therefore, make sure to always practice ethical speech writing.

Ethical speech writing also means avoiding divisive rhetoric because it often deepens existing divisions, polarizes communities, and makes finding common ground on important issues more difficult. Divisive rhetoric hinders constructive dialogue between political opponents. Using speech writing techniques that are inclusive, respectful, and constructive fosters unity, promotes understanding and achieves positive outcomes, which is essential for driving audience engagement in your political campaign messaging.

Leveraging Technology for Speechwriting

Many speech writing resources can help you. Let these speechwriting resources serve as a guide, but do not rely totally on speech writing resources, or you will block out the candidate's personality. Among the most effective speech writing tips is to let speechwriting tools enhance the speech writing process by using them to improve speech writing techniques. Among these speech writing tools, speech writing software is a vital resource that plays a pivotal role in organizing thoughts, structuring arguments, and drafting coherent content while creating political discourse and crafting political messages. Utilizing these effective speech writing tips gives you access to templates, outlines, and organization features that help transform ideas into well-structured political discourses. Even if you usually shy away from technology, try speech writing software.

An easy place to start is Good Party’s AI Campaign Manager , which can help candidates draft launch speeches with ease, saving time and energy. 

Additionally, another favorite among effective speech writing tips is to use research databases. These are invaluable tools for the speech writing process as they allow you to access vast amounts of information, including historical data, statistics, and policy details. Therefore, they are an invaluable speech writing resource, enabling speechwriters to conduct thorough research, fact-check statements, and bolster arguments with credible sources.

Furthermore, grammar and style-checking software is another indispensable software component critical to the speech writing process. This speech writing resource helps to refine language and ensure that the political rhetoric is clear, is grammatically correct, and resonates with the intended audience. These tools help avoid common language pitfalls and enhance the overall quality of the writing.

Another effective speech writing tip is to incorporate digital elements into political discourse, as using them engages a more diverse audience. Integrating visuals, such as infographics and charts, can make complex data more accessible by providing a visual context that aids comprehension. These graphic elements enhance understanding, make the speech more memorable, and help to ensure that crucial candidate messaging resonates with broader demographics.

Speech writing and public relations are intrinsically linked, playing a pivotal role in shaping the perception of individuals. Effective speechmaking in public relations allows for the dissemination of critical messages to target audiences. Through speechwriting and public relations strategies, public figures can build and maintain trust, manage their reputation and foster meaningful connections with voters, underscoring the indispensable synergy between speech writing and public relations in elections.

The Role of Speechwriters in Political Campaigns

Speechwriters often collaborate closely with candidates to help them build political communication skills. These political communication skills include articulating their vision, values and policy positions. Ethical speech writing requires you to lay aside your ideas and write from the candidate's point of view. This effective speech writing tip often begins with in-depth interviews to understand the candidate's personality, goals and key messages. Speechwriters then craft political rhetoric aligning with the candidate's voice and resonating with their intended audience. Regular communication and feedback loops are vital for crafting political messages, allowing for revisions and fine-tuning political communication skills to ensure that inspirational speeches are authentic and compelling. The partnership between speechwriters and candidates when crafting political messages is a dynamic process that must convey the candidate's vision effectively and connect with voters.

However, not all candidates need to hire speechwriters. With Good Party’s AI Campaign Manager , candidates can generate drafts of political speeches, completely for free. Our tools are especially helpful for crafting launch speeches, which candidates can give at campaign launch events and to kick off their campaigns.

Inspirational speeches, meticulously tailored to resonate with diverse audiences and delivered with authenticity, possess the potential to inspire, inform and mobilize voters, encapsulating a candidate's vision and values. Often, the words spoken reverberate in the electorate's hearts and minds. Tailoring speeches in this way gives them the power to shape the outcome of campaigns and the nation's course. Political rhetoric bridges the divide between candidates and voters, uniting diverse communities under a shared vision. Overall, remember that the qualities of a great speech rely on elements of style, elements of substance, and elements of impact.

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How To Write A Presidential Speech

Katie Clower

The Importance of a Presidential Speech

Presidential speeches have been a prevalent and important part of our country’s society and culture since Washington’s inauguration in April of 1789 in which the first inaugural address, and presidential speech in general, was delivered. Since then, we as a country have beared witness to countless presidential and political speeches. Some have been moving, some inspirational and motivating, some heartbreaking and tear-jerking. Others have made us cringe out of anger, fear, or disappointment. Some have simply fallen flat, having been described as boring or awkward or unsettling.

Many presidential speeches are remembered and regarded to this day, despite how many decades or centuries ago they were delivered. Often, we remember and reflect on those which were the most special and important. But, in some cases the horribly written or delivered ones stick out in our minds, too. This writing guide is designed, in part, for those presidential or politician candidates and hopefuls to use as a tool to ensure their own speeches will be remembered and reflected on for years to come, for their positive messages and audience responses, not the opposite.

If you are not or do not plan to be a politician or president, do not stop reading! This guide is also written with the average person, even one with little to no political ties or aspirations, in mind. Public speech is a large aspect and topic of discussion in our society, one that has become critical to the presidential process. As such, many of us may be fascinated by and curious about the process of constructing and delivering a successful presidential speech. This guide will convey all of this information via data and analyses of previous both renowned and failed presidential speeches, deductions of what it was that made them so great or so catastrophic, syntheses of expert research and findings on the topic, and more. It does so in a casual, easy-to-follow tone, further making it a read for all.

Another reason this guide is applicable to everyone is because the speech-making tips and techniques shared throughout the text are true for not just political speech, but any form. Everyone has to deliver pitches, speeches, or presentations at some point in their lives or careers. The conclusion section emphasizes how the information and advice shared in this guide can apply to and help with all other forms of speech writing and delivering. With all of this in mind, this guide is meant for truly anyone who wants to take the time to read and be informed.

Goals of the Speech

Presidential speeches have become increasingly important over time as a means to connect with and appeal to the people in order to articulate and drive forward presidential goals, deliver or reflect on tragic or positive news, and more. As Teten put it in his study, “speeches are the core of the modern presidency” (334). He finds that while “in the past, speechmaking, as well as public appeal in the content of speeches, was not only infrequent but discouraged due to precedent and technology,” today it is one of the most important and most frequently utilized presidential tools (Teten, 334). Allison Mcnearney states that “even in an age of Twitter, the formal, spoken word from the White House carries great weight and can move, anger or inspire at home and around the world.” These findings make perfecting this method of communication with the people even more crucial to master. One part of doing so requires keeping in mind what the main, general goals of these speeches are.

Connection to Audience

While presidents and politicians deliver many different types of speeches which often have contrasting tones and messages depending on the occasion, there is always an exigence for politicians to make efforts to connect with their audience. This in turn results in a more positive audience perception and reaction to both the president and his speech. Later in the guide, specific rhetorical and linguistic strategies and moves will be discussed which have proven effective in fostering a connection with audience members through speech.

This overall notion of establishing connection works to break down barriers and make the audience feel more comfortable with and trusting of the speech giver. McNearney points to FDR as a president who successfully connected with the people, largely, she claims, through his fireside chats. The fireside chats exemplified a president making use of the media for the first time “to present a very carefully crafted message that was unfiltered and unchallenged by the press” (McNearney). Today, we often see our presidents use Twitter as a media avenue to connect and present their “unfiltered” version of a policy or goal.

Lasting Message

Another central and overarching goal presidents and politicians should keep in mind when writing and delivering a speech is to make it lasting and memorable. It is challenging to predict what exactly will resonate with people in a way that makes a speech long remembered. Many of the various rhetorical and linguistic techniques outlined in section III have helped former presidents deliver speeches that have become known as some of “the greats.”

Sometimes it is a matter of taking risks with a speech. Martin Luther King and Barack Obama are among some of the most powerful speech-givers our country has seen. Both men took risks in many of their speeches. Mcnearney points to Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech as being “risky” in its focus and discussion on racial tensions in the country, an often avoided or untouched conversation. But, the speech was well-received and well-remembered, proving this risk was worth it.

What to Do: Rhetorical and Linguistic Moves

A conjunction of previous findings from various scholars and my own research make up this section to portray the effective rhetorical and linguistic strategies that have been employed in successful presidential speech.

Emotive Language

In section II one of the central goals discussed in a presidential speech is to appeal to one’s audience . An effective way to do so is through emotive language and general emotional appeal. In their study, Erisen et al. note the value of “strik[ing] an emotional chord with the public” as a means to gain public support, increase public awareness, and overall aid presidents in pursuing their political agendas (469). They work to prove the effectiveness of this strategy through an analysis of an Obama speech, delivered during a time of growing economic crisis in the country.

Erisen et al. identify Obama’s implementation of both emotional and optimistic tones as rhetorical moves to connect with and appeal to his audience of constituents. The success of his use of emotionally-related rhetorical strategies are evident findings that came out of a survey that “reported that 68% of speech-watchers had a ‘positive reaction’ and that 85% felt ‘more optimistic’ about the direction the country was heading” (Erisen et al., 470). Stewart et al. also find that “more emotionally evocative messages… lead to higher levels of affective response by viewers” (125). This clear data indicates the power connecting with an audience through emotion can have on their response and future outlook.

Optimistic Tone

Along with Obama’s “optimistic tone” described above, others have employed what has been described as both hopeful and reassuring tones as rhetorical moves to appeal to an audience. Two of the ten “most important modern presidential speeches,” as selected by the nonpartisan affiliated scholars of the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, are JFK’s address on the space effort and FDR’s first inaugural address (McNearney). JFK’s address was successful and well-received because of the hopeful tone he employs when discussing the goal to land a man on the moon. He gave the people an optimistic perspective on this lofty goal, making “Americans feel like there was nothing we couldn’t do” (McNearney). In his inaugural address, Roosevelt too pairs bold claims with optimism and reassurance to his audience.

Inclusive Language

Another found strategy utilized by presidents to appeal to their audience through speech is the use of inclusive language. In Teten’s study, he looks at the use of the words “we” and “our”, specifically, in presidential State of the Union Addressesses over time. His findings revealed a steady increase in these words within the speeches over time. The usage of these “public address and inclusion words” create an appeal with presidents’ audiences because they help presidents in creating “an imagined community in which the president and his listeners coexist on a level plane (Teten, 339-342). These findings illustrate the importance of not presenting oneself as an omnipotent power and leader, but rather a normal citizen of the country like all of those watching. Identifying oneself with the audience this way breaks down any barriers present.

Persuasive Language

Persuasion is another often-used rhetorical strategy, especially during presidential campaigns. In their study about “language intensity,” Clementson et al. look at the use of “persuasive language” as a strategy presidential candidates employ during their campaigns. They assert that “candidates seem to vary their language as they try to persuade audiences to perceive them favorably” (Clementson et al., 592). In referring to this persuasive rhetorical strategy, they utilize the term “problem-solution structure” as one which is often well-received by an audience. People appreciate hearing exactly how a president or presidential candidate plans to fix a problem at hand.

What Not to Do

  As stated earlier, while there are many speeches that are excellently written and delivered, there, too, are many speeches that flop. Alexander Meddings wrote an article which spotlights a number of political speeches which he deems some of the “worst” in modern history. In comparing what makes a good versus a bad speech he asserts that “a bad speech must, by definition, be flat, garbled and publicly damaging either for the speaker or for the cause they’re seeking to promote” (Meddings). In looking at some of the characteristics that make up some of the “worst” speeches, this section will highlight what not to do in the process of working to compose and deliver a successful speech.

The research demonstrates that length of speech actually proves very important. In Teten’s study, in addition to looking at inclusive language over time in presidential State of the Union Addresses, he also graphically measured the length, specifically number of words, of the addresses across time. His results proved interesting. There was a rise in length of these speeches from the first one delivered to those delivered in the early 1900s and then there was a sudden and far drop. There was a movement around the time of the drop to make speeches more concise, and it is clear, since they have remained much shorter as time has gone on, this choice was well-received.

Meddings alludes to this in his piece, describing both William Henry Harrison’s presidential inaugural address and Andrew Johnson’s vice-presidential inaugural address as some of the worst speeches, largely because of how dragged out they were. A very important aspect of speech-giving is capturing the audience’s attention, and this cannot be accomplished through a lengthy, uninteresting oration.

Lying And/or Contradiction

Though it should be fairly obvious that one should not lie in a speech, for the consequences will be great, there have been a number of presidents and politicians who have done so. Regan, Clinton, and Trump are all among the presidents and politicians who have made false statements or promises within speeches. Though it is understandable that a politician would want to speak towards what he or she knows will resonate and appeal to the audience, doing so in a false or manipulative way is not commendable and will lead to much greater backlash than just being honest.

Word Choice

Some politicians have been caught lying in speeches when trying to cover up a controversy or scandal. Though one should try to avoid any sort of controversy, a president or person in power has to expect to have to talk on some difficult or delicate topics. This is where careful word choice becomes vital. Often the way to ensure a speech is written eloquently, carefully, and inoffensively is through various rounds of editing from a number of different eyes.

Applications to All Forms of Speech-Giving

This guide should prove helpful for not only those looking to run for office, but for everyone. The various strategies and techniques given within this guide are, for the most part, broad enough that they can be applied to any form of speech-giving or presenting. We will all have to give a speech, a toast, a presentation, and countless other forms of written or oral works in our lives. Refer to this guide when doing so.

In terms of political or presidential speech specifically, though, in a sense there is not a clear formula for how to write and deliver them. In studies looking at various different successful presidential speeches, orators, and speechwriters, it is clear they all have their own unique style and form that works for them. But, the tips provided in this guide will certainly work to help to create a proficient and successful political speech writer and orator.

Works Cited

Clementson, David E., Paola Pascual-Ferr, and Michael J. Beatty. “When does a Presidential Candidate seem Presidential and Trustworthy? Campaign Messages through the Lens of Language Expectancy Theory.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 46.3 (2016): 592-617.  ProQuest. Web. 10 Dec. 2019.

Erisen, Cengiz, and José D. Villalotbos. “Exploring the Invocation of Emotion in Presidential Speeches.” Contemporary Politics , vol. 20, no. 4, 2014, pp. 469–488., doi:10.1080/13569775.2014.968472.

McNearney, Allison. “10 Modern Presidential Speeches Every American Should Know.”

History.com , A&E Television Networks, 16 Feb. 2018, www.history.com/news/10-modern-presidential-speeches-every-american-should-know.

Meddings, Alexander. “The 8 Worst Speeches in Modern Political History.”

HistoryCollection.co , 9 Nov. 2018, historycollection.co/8-worst-speeches-modern-political-history/7/.

Stewart, Patrick A., Bridget M. Waller, and James N. Schubert. “Presidential Speechmaking

Style: Emotional Response to Micro-Expressions of Facial Affect.” Motivation and Emotion 33.2 (2009): 125-35. ProQuest. Web. 1 Oct. 2019.

Teten, Ryan. “Evolution of the Modern Rhetorical Presidency: Presidential Presentation and

Development of the State of the Union Address.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 33.2 (2003): 333-46. ProQuest. Web. 30 Sep. 2019.

Writing Guides for (Almost) Every Occasion Copyright © 2020 by Katie Clower is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Illustration by Steven Gregor of an orator at a lectern, with speechwriters working behind the scenes

Lend me your ears! The art of political speechwriting

The politicians deliver the words but who writes them? We talk to the experts whose job is to come up with the memorable phrases

E ven her fiercest supporters would acknowledge that one aspect of the new prime minister Liz Truss’s political skillset that requires urgent improvement is that of communication. She wasn’t called upon to put it to the test in winning the Conservative leadership contest, where she only had to demonstrate that she was not Rishi Sunak and avoid any challenging media interviews. But from now on she has to speak for, and most importantly to, the nation at large.

One way that politicians attempt to look as if they know what they’re talking about is by delivering a set-piece speech. If her speeches on the leadership hustings are anything to go by, Truss, who came across as if she was running for the sixth-form prefect’s office, is no Winston Churchill. She’s not even her idol, Margaret Thatcher , or indeed David Cameron, who famously won the Conservative party leadership on the strength of a speech.

As the party conference season heaves into view, it’s worth remembering that most speeches tend to be concerned with the announcement of a new tax rebate system or the like, and all but a tiny fraction are forgotten as soon they have been delivered, if not before. But if only a handful of speeches achieve a kind of immortality, countless numbers are written with the hope that they’ll capture the public’s imagination, even if the public constitutes only those gathered at the opening of a provincial bypass. To this end, a semi-hidden profession has mushroomed to produce these aspiring works of political glory – that of the speechwriter. Unlike most other forms of writing, it doesn’t offer a credit or a byline. In this country it’s a behind-the-scenes sort of occupation, unsung and uncelebrated.

Jess Cunniffe was a local newspaper reporter working in Luton and Leighton Buzzard when she covered a 2010 election event at which then Tory leader Cameron gave a speech. “It was a really good speech,” recalls Cunniffe, who describes herself as a “ Cameroon Conservative ”. “And I thought: ‘Rather than reporting on speeches, I’d quite like to be writing them.’” But it seemed a fanciful idea to her, akin to joining the MCC or MI5, until she read a profile of Clare Foges , who was working as a Conservative speechwriter. “And I thought: ‘She’s not Oxbridge, she didn’t go to private school, she’s not male and old. She’s a bit like me and maybe this is a career option.’”

Liz Truss giving her acceptance speech at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in London last week.

So she quit journalism and started working for Tory MP Mark Lancaster, got some experience writing speeches and applied for a job at Conservative central office. Cunniffe became Sayeeda Warsi’s special adviser, or spad – a political appointee with the status of a temporary civil servant – before landing a job as a speechwriter at No 10 with the man who originally inspired her. She says that Cameron, who had a background as a speechwriter himself, was unusual among senior politicians in being quick to acknowledge their input: “He would introduce me as his speechwriter and want people to meet me and know that I’d help write his speeches.”

As Tony Blair’s former speechwriter Philip Collins notes in his book on the subject, When They Go Low, We Go High , in the 19th century, politicians such as William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli would only make three polished speeches a year. Nowadays their equivalents can get through that number in a week. It’s not feasible, or at least not sensible, to be in high office and spend half your time honing fine rhetorical phrases.

Yet perhaps as a hangover from the 19th- and early 20th-century idea of politicians as orators, they can risk being seen as inauthentic – a mere actor reading a script – if it’s known that the words they speak are someone else’s. So with one or two exceptions, speechwriters tend to maintain a low profile and keep shtum about their efforts. “Some of the biggest things I’ve worked on I can’t talk about,” says Daniel Finkelstein, Times columnist, Conservative peer and one-time speechwriter for William Hague, among others. “Some of my best lines I can’t boast about. That’s just the way it is in this country.”

Philip Collins, who has broken cover, now runs a speechwriting website called the Draft and has arguably done more than anyone else to shed light on the shadowy business of writing for politicians. “Speechwriting is a bit like comedy writing,” he says. “The British do it alone while the Americans employ a whole battalion. So, as a writer, you are the only one, but that is not to say that plenty of people are not involved.” If it’s a big set-piece speech, such as the leader’s speech at a party conference, preparations can start months beforehand and the number of people who want an input can grow to an unruly amount. But it usually starts off in a room with several people shooting ideas around.

“You will be the one holding the pen,” says Michael Lea, a former speechwriter for Gordon Brown. And the first task, he says, is to get down all the information and chatter that’s going on in the room and then try to establish a general overarching theme. But once that’s established, the other voices don’t suddenly fade away. During the drafting process, various ministers and interested parties will want to share their thoughts and try to get their particular concerns included in the final document.

“It is a curiosity of the job,” Collins has written, “that people seem to believe that if they send in a few lines with no context then the speech can be assembled from all these bits, like flat-pack furniture comprised of the parts from different chairs.” There will, at least, be plenty of opportunities for revision. “You’re talking 20-plus drafts, possibly,” says Lea. “Obviously some are major rewrites and some are minor tweaks. It depends on how your principal likes to work.”

Some of the principals are talented speechwriters themselves. Finkelstein says that George Osborne used to call writing speeches for Hague “taking free kicks for Beckham”. But using that analogy, not all free kicks are 30-yard scorchers into the top corner of the goal. It’s no good seeking an epic register if your audience are wanting something more down to earth. As Collins has noted, Churchill spent most of his political career making speeches that were far too grand for their context. It took a world war to transform his sumptuously turned sentences into spirit-rousing classics guaranteed a place in collections of great speeches.

Winston Churchill giving a speech at County Hall, London, in 1941.

For students of speechwriting such as Finkelstein, there is an ever-present danger, he acknowledges, of going too large. “William Hague once expressed the problem to me. He said: ‘Your speech will often read as if it’s meant to be delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, when I’m actually giving it at the Durham Conservative party Christmas dinner.’” Hague had two golden rules of speechmaking, says Finkelstein. “First of all, every half-sentence has got to be useful. And second, never use a joke unless you’re absolutely certain that it’s funny.”

Finkelstein has a reputation for being something of a joke-meister. Sometimes politicians have come to him just to insert a little humour into their rather dry proclamations. But the only test for whether a joke is funny, he says, is if someone laughs. So he says it’s vital to tell it to someone beforehand and see what the response is. “If they don’t laugh,” he notes, “there’s no point arguing that it’s funny.” Jokes are valued because they help break the tension in the audience, but also show politicians as more “human” – a quality they all want to be seen to possess but most often struggle to convey. It should go without saying that laughter is dependent not just on the funniness of the joke but also the manner in which it is delivered. Former prime minister Theresa May, for example, was never going to enjoy a second career as a standup. Finkelstein has written jokes for her but says they work best if they are kept simple with an immediate punchline, whereas with Hague he could allow for a more nuanced build-up.

Brown is another politician who no one has ever looked to for belly laughs. Much more at home with the “post neo-classical endogenous growth theory” of economics than comic banter, he tended to come across on the podium as an austerely serious man. So Lea is rightly proud of once persuading him, against the then prime minister’s better judgment, to tell a joke playing on some snowstorms that had hindered travel, but whose subtext referred to the rumours circulating of a plot to overthrow him as Labour leader. What it amounted to was Brown opening a speech by saying that he had thought he wasn’t going to be there that day. But it brought the house down and was positively referred to in the news coverage. “It’s small victories,” Lea says. “Perhaps no one else remembers it but there is no greater feeling than seeing something you’ve written read out by someone really important on TV, and even more so if you’re there.”

At this current anxious juncture of history, any speechwriter who could come up with a joke that the perennially stiff Truss was able to deliver and was actually funny would certainly command the respect, not to say amazement, of his or her fellow professionals.

W hat every speechwriter dreams of, though, is writing something that enters the history books and becomes part of common language. Such an outcome, as Collins has argued, depends largely on external factors and how much the speech matters. “We shall fight on the beaches … We shall never surrender” was a momentous peroration by any reckoning, but that’s in no small part because Britain was under threat of a Nazi invasion in June 1940 when Churchill uttered those deathless words.

In When They Go Low, We Go High, Collins picks out Neil Kinnock’s 1987 Welsh Labour party conference speech as an example of a great speech made in peacetime. “Why,” Kinnock famously asked, “am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university?” The answer could be that the oldest British university is only a little over a thousand years old, so it’s only about 30 generations of Kinnocks who were shortchanged on their education. But he was using a rhetorical device that proved successfully emotive. So much so, indeed, that later in 1987, during his first run for the US presidency, Joe Biden borrowed heavily from Kinnock’s speech and was forced to withdraw from the race having been accused of plagiarism. What made Biden’s mistake particularly hard to understand is that he would have been surrounded by a small army of speechwriters, who either sourced the original material or failed to stop him from using it without attribution.

Neil Kinnock addresses the Welsh Labour party Conference, Llandudno, May 1987.

Ever since Ted Sorensen became known for helping to craft John F Kennedy’s inaugural address – “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” – the role of speechwriter in US politics has grown steadily more important. The White House has its own director of speechwriting and a team of about seven or eight writers. Barack Obama’s first director of speechwriting, Jon Favreau , has gone on to become a media star with his own podcast, Pod Save America .

Clare Foges was in No 10 when Obama’s entourage, including several speechwriters, were part of a state visit in 2011. “They were very nice,” she recalls. “But they took what they did so incredibly seriously, to the point where one of them stood in our offices and started declaiming one of his speeches, you know, ‘From the plains of Ohio to the canyons of New Mexico’ sort of thing. And we were all looking at each other trying not to laugh. Obviously, Britain doesn’t have the same canvas on which to paint words. You can’t really say: ‘From the Peak District to Salisbury Plain.’ So you can be a bit grander as an American speechwriter, and they are grander.”

Foges started out working for Boris Johnson when he was mayor of London, before graduating to No 10 and Cameron. What were the differences in writing speeches for them? “Boris would be full of praise: ‘This is appallingly good!’ And then never use a word of what I’d written. Whereas Cameron was not so effusive, more exacting, but he would actually use it and, I felt, consider my opinion, which was better for the professional self-esteem, ultimately.”

If speechwriters are to an extent off-stage ventriloquists, they have to adapt their voice to that of the speechmaker. “You have to vary your tone and pace,” says Finkelstein and failure to do so can lead to formulaic or confused speeches. But what about your politics – can they be adapted to suit the speaker? Cunniffe says she couldn’t write for a Labour politician such as Keir Starmer, although she noted that he had been looking for a speechwriter.

David Cameron speaking in front of a portrait of Winston Churchill

“You can’t stretch it too far,” agrees Collins. “You need to be comfortable making the case. There were occasions I wrote speeches I disagreed with – the case for ID cards, for example – but that turned out to be one of the best things I ever wrote, probably because I was so acutely aware of the arguments against.”

Collins has brilliantly dissected many political speeches for the Times , a task, one speechwriter told me, that “breaks the speechwriters’ code of honour”. Collins dismisses that accusation, saying that he has merely made “the art of speechwriting in Britain a tiny bit more prominent, and I would stress the word ‘tiny’”. In any case, he has some advice for speechwriters, which they may care to take note of as the conference season nears. “I found the attention of the press office helpful in the sense that they imposed the discipline of the headline: ‘What do you want to say, in a nutshell?’ is a good question to ask of a writer, and the press office is condemned to ask it.”

Which raises the question: if a speech can be condensed into a nutshell, why does it require half an hour? Perhaps because, in spite of our supposed soundbite culture, the limited characters of Twitter and our allegedly ever-shrinking span of attention, there remains something quite impressive about a politician holding and rousing an audience over an extended period of time. There is the belief that if they can take a room with them, perhaps they can inspire the country too. It’s a belief that unfortunately is repeatedly punctured by experience, but that shouldn’t deter the ranks of unheralded speechwriters when they sit down in front of an empty screen and prepare to make rhetorical history.

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Inside The Art Of Political Speech Writing

Barack Obama has the chance to set a new standard for speech making when he accepts the Democratic nomination tonight. But just what goes into crafting a memorable political speech?

NPR's Tony Cox asks Susan Estrich, professor of law and political science at the University of Southern California and the former manager of Michael Dukakis' 1988 presidential campaign; Chriss Winston, the first woman to head the speech writing staff at the White House; and Charlton McIllwain, assistant professor of culture and communication at New York University.

Obama's Acceptance Pledge: Fix 'Broken Politics'

The Democratic Convention

Obama's acceptance pledge: fix 'broken politics'.

How To Write A Political Speech

Brendan Finucane

Crafting a compelling political speech holds immense importance for any aspiring politician and successful political campaign. It is a powerful tool for connecting with the audience, influencing opinions, and igniting action. To make speeches truly impactful, harnessing the power of voter engagement and direct sourcing is key. Politicians can gather valuable insights directly from the people they aim to represent by actively engaging with voters and listening to their concerns.

This approach adds significant value to speeches and establishes an authentic connection with voters. This blog post will explore the significance of delivering compelling political speeches and highlight the benefits of incorporating voter engagement and direct sourcing techniques. By the end, you'll gain practical insights into creating lessons that resonate with your audience and make a lasting impact. Revise your political speechwriting skills with valuable tips and actionable strategies!

Writing a compelling political speech that resonates with your audience is vital for any politician. Two key factors are crucial to achieving this: defining your objectives and knowing your target audience.

  • Defining the objectives: Your speech should have a clear purpose, whether it is to persuade, inspire, or educate your listeners. You can shape your address by defining your goals to achieve those desired outcomes effectively. ‍
  • Knowing your target audience: Understanding your audience's demographics, concerns, and aspirations is fundamental. This knowledge allows you to tailor your message in a way that connects with them on a personal level. You can create a speech that resonates deeply and captures their attention by addressing their needs and desires.

Research and Preparation

Research and preparation are vital steps in writing an impactful political speech. By gathering comprehensive data from various sources, conducting surveys, and analyzing voter demographics, you can enhance the effectiveness of your address. Here are key actions to take:

  • Collecting data from various sources: Traditional media such as newspapers, TV, and radio provide insights into current political events and public sentiment. Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube offer information on trending topics and public discourse. Online forums and communities like Reddit, Quora, and specialized political forums allow you to tap into discussions and understand different perspectives. ‍
  • Conducting surveys and opinion polls: ‍ Engaging in surveys and opinion polls helps you gauge your target audience's opinions, preferences, and concerns. This data provides valuable insights to shape your speech accordingly. ‍
  • Analyzing voter demographics and specific concerns: ‍ Understanding your audience's demographics, including age, gender, and location, enables you to tailor your speech to resonate with their unique backgrounds and experiences. Additionally, identifying specific concerns and issues that matter to voters allows you to address them directly in your speech, making it more relevant and impactful.

By undertaking thorough research and preparation, you will have a solid foundation for crafting a compelling political speech that speaks directly to your audience's needs and aspirations. In the upcoming sections, we will explore these topics in more detail, providing you with practical strategies to integrate the collected data effectively into your speechwriting process. Get ready to take your political speechwriting skills to the next level!

Crafting a Compelling Political Speech

Crafting a powerful political speech requires careful consideration of the message you want to convey. Here are key steps to help you create a compelling address:

  • Identifying key issues and topics: Start by identifying crucial issues such as the economy and jobs, healthcare and social welfare, education and student debt, climate change and environmental policies, and national security and foreign affairs. These topics are often at the forefront of public discourse and resonate with voters. ‍
  • Prioritizing topics based on voter feedback and relevance: ‍ Listen to the feedback and concerns of voters through surveys, town hall meetings, and direct engagement. Prioritize the topics that resonate most with your audience, ensuring your speech addresses their pressing issues. ‍
  • Developing a compelling narrative: ‍ Structure your speech with a clear introduction, body, and conclusion to provide a cohesive flow. Utilize storytelling techniques to make your message engaging and relatable, capturing your audience's attention. Connect your experiences to policy proposals, humanizing your speech and showing your understanding of real-life impacts. Emphasize empathy and relatability to establish a genuine connection with your audience, showcasing that you understand and share their concerns.

Following these steps, you can craft a persuasive political speech highlighting key issues, resonating with voters, and inspiring action. In the following sections, we will delve deeper into each aspect, providing you with practical tips and techniques to enhance the impact of your speech. Prepare to deliver a memorable and influential address that leaves a lasting impression!

Rehearsing your political speech is a critical step that significantly aids your confidence and overall delivery. Here are some valuable tips to consider when it comes to rehearsing:

  • Practice makes perfect: Dedicate ample time to rehearsing your speech before presenting it to an audience. Aim to rehearse your address at least five times to familiarize yourself with the content, structure, and flow. ‍
  • Seek feedback from your team: Once you've practiced independently, deliver your speech to your team and invite their constructive criticism. Their feedback can provide valuable insights and help you refine your points, delivery, and overall performance. ‍
  • Conduct a full dress rehearsal: Organize a complete dress rehearsal with your team, where they play the roles of a moderator and your competition. This simulation allows you to identify potential weaknesses in your arguments, anticipate challenging questions, and fine-tune your delivery. ‍
  • Capture and review your performance: Consider filming yourself giving the speech during rehearsal. Watching the recording afterwards lets you objectively evaluate your performance, body language, and speaking style. Take note of areas where improvements can be made and make adjustments accordingly. ‍
  • Ensure accessibility through simplicity: While rehearsing, approach your speech from the perspective of someone unfamiliar with the topics you're addressing. Use simple language and many analogies to make your political speech accessible to many listeners. This approach enhances understanding and enables your message to resonate with the entire electorate.

By incorporating rehearsal into your speechwriting process, you can boost your confidence, identify areas for improvement, and deliver a polished and impactful speech. Remember, rehearsing allows you to refine your points, connect with your audience effectively, and ensure your message is conveyed clearly, concisely, and relatable. ‍

Use Common Language

Using common language in political speech writing is essential to effectively connect with your audience and ensure your message resonates with a wide range of listeners. Here are key considerations when it comes to using common language:

  • ‍ Speak in an accessible manner:   Communicate in a way that is easily understandable to all. Avoid excessive jargon, complex terminology, or convoluted sentences that may confuse or alienate your audience. Use clear and concise language that allows anyone to grasp your message. ‍ ‍
  • Avoid offensive terms:   Maintaining a respectful and inclusive tone during your speech is important. Steer clear of profane or derogatory language that could offend or marginalize certain groups. Treat your audience with respect, emphasizing unity and understanding. ‍ ‍
  • Harness the power of stories and personal accounts:   Stories and first-person narratives profoundly impact your audience. Utilize relatable anecdotes and real-life experiences to illustrate your points, making your arguments more engaging, relatable, and emotionally compelling. ‍ ‍
  • Balance simplicity with depth:   While most of your content should be easily understandable by anyone, it is acceptable to incorporate academic research, quotations, or statistics that may require additional explanation. Find a balance between simplicity and depth, ensuring that even complex ideas can be grasped by your listeners with the appropriate context and explanation.

Using common language can effectively bridge the gap between complex ideas and the understanding of your audience. Remember, the goal is to connect with as many people as possible, making your message accessible, relatable, and impactful. So, craft your speech with clarity and simplicity while utilizing stories and personal accounts to create an emotional connection that resonates with your listeners.

How to Construct An Argument

Constructing a compelling argument is crucial to writing a persuasive political speech. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you build a strong and impactful argument:

  • Clearly state your thesis: Begin by articulating your main point or thesis statement. This sets the foundation for your argument and provides a clear focus for your speech. ‍
  • Gather supporting evidence: Collect relevant facts, statistics, expert opinions, and real-life examples that support your thesis. Strong evidence adds credibility and strengthens your argument. ‍
  • Organize your points logically: Structure your argument logically and coherently. Present your facts in a sequence that builds upon each other, leading your audience towards your main thesis. ‍
  • Anticipate counterarguments: Consider potential counterarguments to your position and address them proactively. This demonstrates thoroughness and strengthens your overall argument. ‍
  • Use persuasive language: Choose words and phrases that are persuasive and compelling. Craft your message to resonate with your audience emotionally and intellectually. ‍
  • Appeal to logic and emotions: Blend logical reasoning with emotional appeals to make your argument more persuasive. Use rational evidence to support your claims and evoke emotions to connect with your audience more deeply. ‍
  • Use rhetorical devices: Employ rhetorical devices such as repetition, analogy, and rhetorical questions to enhance the impact of your argument and make it more memorable. ‍
  • Summarize and restate your main points: Conclude your argument by summarizing your main points and restating your thesis. Leave your audience clearly understanding your position and a compelling call to action.

These steps can construct a strong and persuasive argument in your political speech. Remember to support your claims with evidence, organize your points effectively, and appeal to logic and emotions. With a well-constructed argument, your address will be poised to influence opinions and inspire action.

Voter Engagement for your Speech

Engaging with voters through various tactics is essential to crafting a compelling political speech. Here's why it matters and how you can make the most of it:

importance of voter contact tactics:

  • Door-to-door canvassing allows you to connect with voters on a personal level, fostering trust and building rapport.
  • Town hall meetings provide a platform for open dialogue, enabling you to directly understand local issues and concerns of the community.
  • Phone calls and text messages offer an opportunity to engage voters individually, creating a sense of importance and personal connection.

Benefits of engaging voters directly:

  • Building trust and rapport strengthens your relationship with voters, making your message more impactful and memorable.
  • Understanding local issues and concerns firsthand helps you address them effectively in your speech, showing your commitment to representing the community's needs.
  • Obtaining firsthand stories and anecdotes allows you to humanize your speech, adding authenticity and relatability to your message.

Techniques for effective voter engagement:

  • Active listening and showing empathy demonstrate your genuine interest in understanding voters' perspectives and concerns.
  • Asking open-ended questions encourages voters to share their thoughts and experiences, providing valuable insights for shaping your speech.
  • Encouraging voter participation in the speechwriting process empowers them. It ensures their voices are heard, enhancing the authenticity of your speech.
  • Utilizing social media platforms to solicit input and feedback broadens your reach. It allows you to engage with a wider audience, gathering diverse perspectives and ideas.

By actively engaging voters through canvassing and other community outreach , you gain invaluable insights, stories, and anecdotes that can greatly enrich your political speech. In the upcoming sections, we will delve deeper into these techniques, providing you with practical strategies to maximize voter engagement and create lessons that truly resonate with your audience. Get ready to harness the power of direct sourcing and make a meaningful impact with your speech!

Incorporating voter input into your speechwriting process is a powerful way to create speeches that truly resonate with your audience. Here's how you can leverage voter input, with a special emphasis on the significance of canvassing:

  • ‍ Analyzing and categorizing voter stories and concerns: By carefully listening to voters' stories and concerns gathered through canvassing, town hall meetings, and other engagement tactics, you can analyze and categorize them to identify common threads and key issues. ‍ ‍
  • Identifying common themes and patterns: By recognizing recurring themes and patterns in voter input, you gain insights into your constituency's collective concerns and aspirations. This knowledge allows you to address them effectively in your speech. ‍ ‍
  • Integrating voter anecdotes into the speech: Personalizing the message by incorporating specific anecdotes and stories voters share, you personalize your speech, making it relatable and impactful. Highlighting real-life impacts: Sharing how specific policies or decisions affect real people helps create a deeper understanding and empathy among your audience. ‍ ‍
  • Acknowledging and addressing dissenting viewpoints: While incorporating voter input, it's important to acknowledge and address dissenting views. By respectfully engaging with opposing perspectives, you demonstrate inclusivity and a willingness to consider all voices.

By actively involving voters in the speechwriting process, you ensure their concerns and experiences are reflected in your message. This adds authenticity and relatability and strengthens your connection with your audience. In the subsequent sections, we will delve deeper into these strategies, providing you with practical tips to seamlessly integrate voter input into your political speeches. Get ready to create addresses that truly resonate and engage your audience profoundly!

The Ten Minutes Beforehand

The ten minutes beforehand hold significant value in maximizing the impact of your political speech. Here's how you can make the most of this crucial time, offering practical strategies to enhance your performance and connect with your audience:

Center yourself through mindfulness techniques:

  • Take deep breaths to calm your nerves and center your mind.
  • Practice mindfulness or meditation to focus your thoughts and promote a sense of presence.

Review your key talking points:

  • Take a moment to mentally review the main points and messages you want to convey.
  • Ensure that your speech aligns with your objectives and resonates with your audience.

Visualize success:

  • Visualize yourself delivering a powerful and impactful speech with confidence and clarity.
  • Envision a positive response from your audience, creating a sense of belief and determination.

Positive self-talk:

  • Engage in positive self-talk to boost your confidence and banish self-doubt.
  • Remind yourself of your strengths, expertise, and message value.

Establish a connection with your audience:

  • Scan the room and make eye contact with individuals in the audience.
  • This brief interaction establishes an initial connection and helps you establish rapport.

Review technical aspects:

  • Double-check any specialized equipment or visual aids to ensure they are functioning properly.
  • Familiarize yourself with the stage setup and microphone placement for seamless delivery.

Warm up your voice and body:

  • Perform vocal warm-up exercises to ensure clarity and projection in your speech.
  • Engage in gentle stretches or movements to release tension and promote a relaxed body language.

By utilizing these strategies ten minutes beforehand, you can optimize your mindset, refine your delivery, and establish an immediate connection with your audience. Remember that these moments set the stage for a memorable speech, allowing you to effectively convey your message, inspire your audience, and leave a lasting impact.

Engaging voters through direct sourcing, especially through canvassing, holds immense power in creating impactful political speeches. By incorporating voter input, speeches can exude authenticity and relatability, connecting with the concerns and aspirations of the electorate. This approach inspires trust and establishes a strong connection between politicians and the people they aim to represent. Crafting well-articulated speeches that resonate with voters is a transformative way to influence opinions and ignite action. As you refine your speech writing skills, remember the significance of actively engaging voters, listening to their stories, and addressing their concerns. By doing so, you will deliver speeches that make a lasting impact, inspire change, and foster a deeper connection with your audience.

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Cambridge Festival of Ideas debate to examine the changing nature of political speeches.

Martin Luther King could get away with elevated language because his cause was a noble one. You can’t really do that when you are talking about the reform of local government. It just isn’t as big an affront to justice. Phil Collins

All eyes will be on Ed Miliband today and much has been written about the importance of his party conference speech.

But what makes a good political speech? Inevitably, Ed Miliband will be compared with Labour leaders of the past, particularly Tony Blair who was known for his persuasive powers. Phil Collins, who wrote many of Blair's speeches, says that great political speeches need a big event or a rallying cause and there are just less of them than there were in the past.

He will be speaking in a debate on political rhetoric at this year's Cambridge Festival of Ideas next month. Other speakers include David Runciman, reader in political thought at the University of Cambridge, author Piers Brendon, former Keeper of the Churchill Archives Centre and Michael White, the Guardian's political editor. The event will be held at Churchill College, Cambridge on October 20th.

For Collins, great political speeches need three key ingredients: a serious argument which leaves the audience thinking something new or resolved to act; great delivery that stirs the emotions as well as appealing to reason; and a sense of occasion.

He says: “Martin Luther King could get away with elevated language because his cause was a noble one. You can’t really do that when you are talking about the reform of local government. It just isn’t as big an affront to justice. So, there is a very good reason we have fewer remarkable speeches which is that we don’t need them as much as we did.”

Collins also justifies the use of sound bites, although he says he always worked by building a solid argument first and then trying to distil the best possible phrase out of the argument rather than the other way around. He says that not only are soundbites vital in a world where a 24/7 media edits chunks of speeches down to one phrase, but all the great writers are full of them. “We should guard against the derogatory association of the word soundbite,” he says. “All we mean, really, is a pithy way of capturing the essence of the point. To be or not to be – that really was the question. It was a soundbite too.”

He adds that the emphasis on soundbites is likely to increase. “The endless fragmentation that results from the coverage of modern media is the main reason that the soundbite has become such a ubiquitous part of political discourse. Your words are going to be chopped into pieces in any case so you might as well offer up the encapsulation you think is the best one.”

Collins says that one of the potential pitfalls of modern party conference speech is the number of people who vet it. “The big conference speeches have many authors, or at least many contributors,” he says.  “It is inevitable, when there are lots of hands at work, that the integrity of the argument goes missing. The task for a conference speech is always to recuperate the argument. The more a single person can be in overall control, as a sort of editor-in-chief, the better. Writing by committee is rarely a good way to work.”

Nevertheless, a good political speech can make all the difference. David Cameron owes his leadership of the Conservatives to two speeches, he says – one he gave which was well received and one given by his rival David Davis which “bombed”. He adds that it is hard to imagine Barack Obama would have become President without his oratory powers.

The audience is clearly vital for any speech writer and Collins says people's attention spans have declined, as has the breadth of their vocabulary and range of reference. Mass democracy means that references to  high culture divide an audience where they would once have united it, he says. There are also more political speeches than there used to be.

“Gladstone and Disraeli used to speak rarely every year. Each speech was an epic, months in the preparation, but they would not be doing speeches three times a week, as many politicians are now,” he says. “In the process, we have devalued the currency a little. The effective political speech, though, remains what it has always been – a mixture of reasoned argument and emotional passion.”

Other speakers at the Festival of Ideas debate will focus on the historical or wider issues associated with political speech-making. Piers Brendon, for instance, will talk about Churchill's use of political rhetoric, which he likens to the style of a music-hall performer, and contrast it with today's more colloquial, television-orientated and soundbiteish delivery.

  • The event, to be held at Wolfson Theatre, Churchill College from 6-7.15pm on Thursday, 20 October, will be chaired by Allen Packwood, Keeper of the Churchill Archives Centre. Arrive at 5.30pm to see an exhibition of documents from the Centre.

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Politics and the English Language

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Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language – so the argument runs – must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.

These five passages have not been picked out because they are especially bad – I could have quoted far worse if I had chosen – but because they illustrate various of the mental vices from which we now suffer. They are a little below the average, but are fairly representative examples. I number them so that I can refer back to them when necessary:

1. I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien ( sic ) to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate. Professor Harold Laski ( Essay in Freedom of Expression ). 2. Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate , or put at a loss for bewilder . Professor Lancelot Hogben ( Interglossia ). 3. On the one side we have the free personality: by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity? Essay on psychology in Politics (New York). 4. All the ‘best people’ from the gentlemen’s clubs, and all the frantic Fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror at the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian organizations, and rouse the agitated petty-bourgeoise to chauvinistic fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the crisis. Communist pamphlet. 5. If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may be sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion’s roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream – as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as ‘standard English’. When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o’clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school-ma’amish arch braying of blameless bashful mewing maidens! Letter in Tribune .

Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house. I list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose-construction is habitually dodged.

Dying metaphors . A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’ (e. g. iron resolution ) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes on , take up the cudgels for , toe the line , ride roughshod over , stand shoulder to shoulder with , play into the hands of , no axe to grind , grist to the mill , fishing in troubled waters , on the order of the day , Achilles’ heel , swan song , hotbed . Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a ‘rift’, for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line . Another example is the hammer and the anvil , now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.

Operators, or verbal false limbs . These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. Characteristic phrases are: render inoperative , militate against , prove unacceptable , make contact with , be subject to , give rise to , give grounds for , have the effect of , play a leading part ( role ) in , make itself felt , take effect , exhibit a tendency to , serve the purpose of , etc. etc. The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as break , stop , spoil , mend , kill , a verb becomes a phrase , made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purposes verb such as prove , serve , form , play , render . In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds ( by examination of instead of by examining ). The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and de- formations, and banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases as with respect to , having regard to , the fact that , by dint of , in view of , in the interests of , on the hypothesis that ; and the ends of sentences are saved from anticlimax by such resounding commonplaces as greatly to be desired , cannot be left out of account , a development to be expected in the near future , deserving of serious consideration , brought to a satisfactory conclusion , and so on and so forth.

Pretentious diction . Words like phenomenon , element , individual (as noun), objective , categorical , effective , virtual , basic , primary , promote , constitute , exhibit , exploit , utilize , eliminate , liquidate , are used to dress up simple statements and give an air of scientific impartiality to biassed judgements. Adjectives like epoch-making , epic , historic , unforgettable , triumphant , age-old , inevitable , inexorable , veritable , are used to dignify the sordid processes of international politics, while writing that aims at glorifying war usually takes on an archaic colour, its characteristic words being: realm , throne , chariot , mailed fist , trident , sword , shield , buckler , banner , jackboot , clarion . Foreign words and expressions such as cul de sac , ancien régime , deus ex machina , mutatis mutandis , status quo , Gleichschaltung , Weltanschauung , are used to give an air of culture and elegance. Except for the useful abbreviations i.e ., e.g. , and etc. , there is no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in English. Bad writers, and especially scientific, political and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones, and unnecessary words like expedite , ameliorate , predict , extraneous , deracinated , clandestine , sub-aqueous and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon opposite numbers[1]. The jargon peculiar to Marxist writing ( hyena , hangman , cannibal , petty bourgeois , these gentry , lackey , flunkey , mad dog , White Guard , etc.) consists largely of words translated from Russian, German, or French; but the normal way of coining a new word is to use a Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix and, where necessary, the -ize formation. It is often easier to make up words of this kind ( deregionalize , impermissible , extramarital , non-fragmentatory and so forth) than to think up the English words that will cover one’s meaning. The result, in general, is an increase in slovenliness and vagueness.

Meaningless words . In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning[2]. Words like romantic , plastic , values , human , dead , sentimental , natural , vitality , as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly even expected to do so by the reader. When one critic writes, ‘The outstanding feature of Mr. X’s work is its living quality’, while another writes, ‘The immediately striking thing about Mr. X’s work is its peculiar deadness’, the reader accepts this as a simple difference of opinion. If words like black and white were involved, instead of the jargon words dead and living , he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way. Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’. The words democracy , socialism , freedom , patriotic , realistic , justice , have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy , not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of régime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Pétain was a true patriot , The Soviet press is the freest in the world , The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution , are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class , totalitarian , science , progressive , reactionary , bourgeois , equality .

Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. This time it must of its nature be an imaginary one. I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes :

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Here it is in modern English:

Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

This is a parody, but not a very gross one. Exhibit 3 above, for instance, contains several patches of the same kind of English. It will be seen that I have not made a full translation. The beginning and ending of the sentence follow the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations – race, battle, bread – dissolve into the vague phrase ‘success or failure in competitive activities’. This had to be so, because no modern writer of the kind I am discussing – no one capable of using phrases like ‘objective’ consideration of contemporary phenomena’ – would ever tabulate his thoughts in that precise and detailed way. The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness. Now analyse these two sentences a little more closely. The first contains 49 words but only 60 syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains 38 words of 90 syllables: 18 of its words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek. The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one phrase (‘time and chance’) that could be called vague. The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its 90 syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English. I do not want to exaggerate. This kind of writing is not yet universal, and outcrops of simplicity will occur here and there in the worst-written page. Still if you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from Ecclesiastes .

As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier – even quicker, once you have the habit – to say In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that than to say I think . If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don’t have to hunt about for the words; you also don’t have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences, since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious. When you are composing in a hurry – when you are dictating to a stenographer, for instance, or making a public speech – it is natural to fall into a pretentious, latinized style. Tags like a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind or a conclusion to which all of us would readily assent will save many a sentence from coming down with a bump. By using stale metaphors, similes and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself. This is the significance of mixed metaphors. The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash – as in The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song , the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot – it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking. Look again at the examples I gave at the beginning of this essay. Professor Laski (1) uses five negatives in 53 words. One of these is superfluous, making nonsense of the whole passage, and in addition there is the slip alien for akin, making further nonsense, and several avoidable pieces of clumsiness which increase the general vagueness. Professor Hogben (2) plays ducks and drakes with a battery which is able to write prescriptions, and, while disapproving of the everyday phrase put up with , is unwilling to look egregious up in the dictionary and see what it means. (3), if one takes an uncharitable attitude towards it, is simply meaningless: probably one could work out its intended meaning by reading the whole of the article in which it occurs. In (4) the writer knows more or less what he wants to say, but an accumulation of stale phrases chokes him like tea-leaves blocking a sink. In (5) words and meaning have almost parted company. People who write in this manner usually have a general emotional meaning – they dislike one thing and want to express solidarity with another – but they are not interested in the detail of what they are saying. A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly? But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you – even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent – and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.

In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions, and not a ‘party line’. Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestos, White Papers and the speeches of Under-Secretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, home-made turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases – bestial atrocities , iron heel , blood-stained tyranny , free peoples of the world , stand shoulder to shoulder – one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favourable to political conformity.

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification . Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers . People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements . Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, ‘I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so’. Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

While freely conceding that the Soviet régime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigours which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.

The inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find – this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify – that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation, even among people who should and do know better. The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient. Phrases like a not unjustifiable assumption , leaves much to be desired , would serve no good purpose , a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind , are a continuous temptation, a packet of aspirins always at one’s elbow. Look back through this essay, and for certain you will find that I have again and again committed the very faults I am protesting against. By this morning’s post I have received a pamphlet dealing with conditions in Germany. The author tells me that he ‘felt impelled’ to write it. I open it at random, and here is almost the first sentence that I see: ‘(The Allies) have an opportunity not only of achieving a radical transformation of Germany’s social and political structure in such a way as to avoid a nationalistic reaction in Germany itself, but at the same time of laying the foundations of a co-operative and unified Europe.’ You see, he ‘feels impelled’ to write – feels, presumably, that he has something new to say – and yet his words, like cavalry horses answering the bugle, group themselves automatically into the familiar dreary pattern. This invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases ( lay the foundations , achieve a radical transformation ) can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain.

I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this would argue, if they produced an argument at all, that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development by any direct tinkering with words and constructions. So far as the general tone or spirit of a language goes, this may be true, but it is not true in detail. Silly words and expressions have often disappeared, not through any evolutionary process but owing to the conscious action of a minority. Two recent examples were explore every avenue and leave no stone unturned , which were killed by the jeers of a few journalists. There is a long list of fly-blown metaphors which could similarly be got rid of if enough people would interest themselves in the job; and it should also be possible to laugh the not un- formation out of existence[3], to reduce the amount of Latin and Greek in the average sentence, to drive out foreign phrases and strayed scientific words, and, in general, to make pretentiousness unfashionable. But all these are minor points. The defence of the English language implies more than this, and perhaps it is best to start by saying what it does not imply.

To begin with it has nothing to do with archaism, with the salvaging of obsolete words and turns of speech, or with the setting up of a ‘standard English’ which must never be departed from. On the contrary, it is especially concerned with the scrapping of every word or idiom which has outworn its usefulness. It has nothing to do with correct grammar and syntax, which are of no importance so long as one makes one’s meaning clear or with the avoidance of Americanisms, or with having what is called a ‘good prose style’. On the other hand it is not concerned with fake simplicity and the attempt to make written English colloquial. Nor does it even imply in every case preferring the Saxon word to the Latin one, though it does imply using the fewest and shortest words that will cover one’s meaning. What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way about. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is to surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualising, you probably hunt about till you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meanings as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterward one can choose – not simply accept – the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impression one’s words are likely to make on another person. This last effort of the mind cuts out all stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally. But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:

i. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. ii. Never use a long word where a short one will do. iii. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. iv. Never use the passive where you can use the active. v. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. vi. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. One could keep all of them and still write bad English, but one could not write the kind of stuff that I quoted in those five specimens at the beginning of this article.

I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought. Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism. Since you don’t know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase – some jackboot , Achilles’ heel , hotbed , melting pot , acid test , veritable inferno or other lump of verbal refuse – into the dustbin where it belongs.

Horizon, April 1946

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George Orwell’s Six Rules for Writing Clear and Tight Prose

in Politics , Writing | May 20th, 2016 12 Comments

orwell writing rules

Image via Cre­ative Com­mons

Most every­one who knows the work of George Orwell knows his 1946 essay “ Pol­i­tics and the Eng­lish Lan­guage ” ( pub­lished here ), in which he rails against care­less, con­fus­ing, and unclear prose. “Our civ­i­liza­tion is deca­dent,” he argues, “and our lan­guage… must inevitably share in the gen­er­al col­lapse.” The exam­ples Orwell quotes are all guilty in var­i­ous ways of “stal­e­ness of imagery” and “lack of pre­ci­sion.”

Ulti­mate­ly, Orwell claims, bad writ­ing results from cor­rupt think­ing, and often attempts to make palat­able cor­rupt acts: “Polit­i­cal speech and writ­ing are large­ly the defense of the inde­fen­si­ble.” His exam­ples of colo­nial­ism, forced depor­ta­tions, and bomb­ing cam­paigns find ready ana­logues in our own time. Pay atten­tion to how the next arti­cle, inter­view, or book you read uses lan­guage “favor­able to polit­i­cal con­for­mi­ty” to soft­en ter­ri­ble things.

Orwell’s analy­sis iden­ti­fies sev­er­al cul­prits that obscure mean­ing and lead to whole para­graphs of bom­bas­tic, emp­ty prose:

Dying metaphors : essen­tial­ly clichés, which “have lost all evoca­tive pow­er and are mere­ly used because they save peo­ple the trou­ble of invent­ing phras­es for them­selves.”

Oper­a­tors or ver­bal false limbs : these are the wordy, awk­ward con­struc­tions in place of a sin­gle, sim­ple word. Some exam­ples he gives include “exhib­it a ten­den­cy to,” “serve the pur­pose of,” “play a lead­ing part in,” “have the effect of.” (One par­tic­u­lar peeve of mine when I taught Eng­lish com­po­si­tion was the phrase “due to the fact that” for the far sim­pler “because.”)

Pre­ten­tious dic­tion : Orwell iden­ti­fies a num­ber of words he says “are used to dress up a sim­ple state­ment and give an air of sci­en­tif­ic impar­tial­i­ty to biased judg­ments.” He also includes in this cat­e­go­ry “jar­gon pecu­liar to Marx­ist writ­ing” (“pet­ty bour­geois,” “lack­ey,” “flunkey,” “hye­na”).

Mean­ing­less words : Abstrac­tions, such as “roman­tic,” “plas­tic,” “val­ues,” “human,” “sen­ti­men­tal,” etc. used “in the sense that they not only do not point to any dis­cov­er­able object, but are hard­ly ever expect­ed to do so by the read­er.” Orwell also damns such polit­i­cal buzz­words as “democ­ra­cy,” “social­ism,” “free­dom,” “patri­ot­ic,” “jus­tice,” and “fas­cism,” since they each have “sev­er­al dif­fer­ent mean­ings which can­not be rec­on­ciled with one anoth­er.”

Most read­ers of Orwell’s essay inevitably point out that Orwell him­self has com­mit­ted some of the faults he finds in oth­ers, but will also, with some intro­spec­tion, find those same faults in their own writ­ing. Any­one who writes in an insti­tu­tion­al context—be it acad­e­mia, jour­nal­ism, or the cor­po­rate world—acquires all sorts of bad habits that must be bro­ken with delib­er­ate intent. “The process” of learn­ing bad writ­ing habits “is reversible” Orwell promis­es, “if one is will­ing to take the nec­es­sary trou­ble.” How should we pro­ceed? These are the rules Orwell sug­gests:

(i) Nev­er use a metaphor, sim­i­le, or oth­er fig­ure of speech which you are used to see­ing in print. (ii) Nev­er use a long word where a short one will do. (iii) If it is pos­si­ble to cut a word out, always cut it out. (iv) Nev­er use the pas­sive where you can use the active. (v) Nev­er use a for­eign phrase, a sci­en­tif­ic word, or a jar­gon word if you can think of an every­day Eng­lish equiv­a­lent. (vi) Break any of these rules soon­er than say any­thing out­right bar­barous.

What con­sti­tutes “out­right bar­barous” word­ing he does not say, exact­ly. As the inter­net cliché has it: Your Mileage May Vary. You may find cre­ative ways to break these rules with­out there­by being obscure or jus­ti­fy­ing mass mur­der.

But Orwell does pref­ace his guide­lines with some very sound advice: “Prob­a­bly it is bet­ter to put off using words as long as pos­si­ble and get one’s mean­ing as clear as one can through pic­tures and sen­sa­tions. After­ward one can choose—not sim­ply accept —the phras­es that will best cov­er the mean­ing.” Not only does this prac­tice get us clos­er to using clear, spe­cif­ic, con­crete lan­guage, but it results in writ­ing that grounds our read­ers in the sen­so­ry world we all share to some degree, rather than the airy word of abstract thought and belief that we don’t.

These “ele­men­tary” rules do not cov­er “the lit­er­ary use of lan­guage,” writes Orwell, “but mere­ly lan­guage as an instru­ment for express­ing and not for con­ceal­ing or pre­vent­ing thought.” In the sev­en­ty years since his essay, the qual­i­ty of Eng­lish prose has like­ly not improved, but our ready access to writ­ing guides of all kinds has. Those who care about clar­i­ty of thought and respon­si­ble use of rhetoric would do well to con­sult them often, and to read, or re-read, Orwell’s essay .

Relat­ed Con­tent:

George Orwell’s Five Great­est Essays (as Select­ed by Pulitzer-Prize Win­ning Colum­nist Michael Hiltzik)

George Orwell Explains in a Reveal­ing 1944 Let­ter Why He’d Write 1984

What “Orwellian” Real­ly Means: An Ani­mat­ed Les­son About the Use & Abuse of the Term

Josh Jones  is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at  @jdmagness

by Josh Jones | Permalink | Comments (12) |

rules of political speech writing

Related posts:

Comments (12), 12 comments so far.

“Your mileage may vary” is bar­barous

I think “very” is an overused, most­ly mean­ing­less word. Also, more than one excla­ma­tion point does not empha­size more.

@robert yes it does!!!!1!!1!1!!!

Good rules. I dis­like the use of “expo­nen­tial increase” for “big increase”, “ecosys­tem” for “sys­tem”, “epi­cen­tre” for “cen­tre”, “shell-shocked” for “shocked”, “black hole” for “hole”, “lit­mus test” for “test” and “tec­ton­ic shift” for “big change”. I see that between them these break all the rules except (iv) and (vi).

The word ‘should’ is essen­tial­ly guilt induc­ing as in ‘blam­ing the victim’.It helps pro­tect those of us who can’t accept the ran­dom hor­ror of life. Also, don’t get me start­ed on the ridicu­lous inva­sion of ‘like’. Every time I hear it mis­used I flinch. Any­one else notice above thoughts?

Total­ly agree with you, Patrice. I’ve often described ‘should’ as a judge­men­tal word.

George Orwell is the appro­pri­ate instance of what high­brow hon­esty and intel­lec­tu­al integri­ty can do with­in the arms of an unaid­ed per­son. He by no means had a con­sis­tent pub­lish­er, a steady job, or a steady place to live; was con­tin­u­al­ly ill, and usu­al­ly poor. But still, he con­trolled to sur­vive and diag­nose cor­rect­ly the three prob­lems of his time; name­ly, Fas­cism, Stal­in­ism, and Impe­ri­al­ism. He is an imper­ish­able exam­ple.’ Christo­pher Hitchens

It doesn’t seem that peo­ple care today about basic Eng­lish whether it’s spelling, punc­tu­a­tion or even try­ing to con­struct a sen­tence (let alone a para­graph). My pet peeves: “ lit­er­al­ly and impact­ful”. The for­mer is redun­dant, lazy filler, and the lat­ter isn’t even a real word!

Try to explain (I)rule is not explained well like ametaphor, oth­er fig­ure of speech. Ithink this is also not clear state­ment to everyone.thank you.

What hap­pened to the com­ment I replied to?

Iron­i­cal­ly, Hitchens argued for the war on Iraq and more …

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How to Use the Rule of Three in Your Speeches

Using the Rule of Three allows you to express concepts more completely, emphasize your points, and increase the memorability of your message.

That’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

What is the rule of three? What are some famous examples? How do you use it in speeches? Read on!

  • Speech Quotations
  • Rhetorical Questions
  • Triads (the Rule of Three)
  • Parallelism

Western Culture and the Rule of Three

Trios, triplets, and triads abound in Western culture in many disciplines. Just a small sampling of memorable cultural triads include:

  • Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
  • Heaven, hell, and purgatory (Catholicism, primarily)
  • Three Wise Men with their gold, frankincense, and myrrh
  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
  • Sex, Lies, and Videotape
  • Superman’s “ Truth, Justice, and the American Way “
  • Nursery rhymes such as the Three Little Pigs or Goldilocks and the Three Bears
  • In a more general sense, there is the allure of trilogies as with Indiana Jones , The Godfather , The Matrix , Star Wars , and many others.
  • U.S. Branches of Government: Executive, Judicial, and Legislative
  • U.S. Declaration of Independence: “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”
  • French motto: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité
  • Abundance of tri-colored flags
  • Fire safety motto: Stop, Drop, and Roll
  • Olympic motto: Citius, Altius, Fortius or Faster, Higher, Stronger
  • Real estate: Location, Location, Location

Historic Rule of Three Speech Examples

Speechwriting is, of course, part of our culture. Examples of the Rule of Three can be found in some of the most famous speeches ever delivered:

  • “Veni, vidi, vici” (I came, I saw, I conquered)
  • “ Friends, Romans, Countrymen. Lend me your ears. “
  • “ We can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. “
  • “ Government of the people, by the people, for the people “
  • “ Duty, Honor, Country ” [repeated several times in the speech]
  • “ we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America “

What’s Magical About the Rule of Three?

It is reasonable to ask what’s so special about three? Why is it so popular in our culture? Aren’t there just as many examples of two- or four-element famous speech lines?

For a famous duo, there is Patrick Henry’s “ Give me liberty or give me death . ”

For a classic quartet, it is tough to beat Winston Churchill’s “ I would say to the House as I said to those who have joined this government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat . ”

Despite examples like these, there is something magical about the Rule of Three in the way that it allows a speaker to express a concept, emphasize it, and make it memorable.

In his book  Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer , Roy Peter Clark provides insights to the magic of the number three:

“ The mojo of three offers a greater sense of completeness than four or more. ”

… the “encompassing” magic of number three … in our language or culture, three provides a sense of the whole … … in the anti-math of writing, the number three is greater than four. The mojo of three offers a greater sense of completeness than four or more. … Use one for power. Use two for comparison, contrast. Use three for completeness, wholeness, roundness. Use four or more to list, inventory, compile, and expand.

Rhetorical Devices — Rule of Three

The rule of three describes triads of all types — any collection of three related elements. Two more specific triad variants are hendiatris and tricolon .

A hendiatris is a figure of speech where three successive words are used to express a central idea.

Examples of hendiatris include:

  • “ Veni, vidi, vici. ” [Julius Caesar]
  • “ Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité “ [ French motto]
  • “ Citius, Altius, Fortius ” [Olympic motto]
  • “ Wine, women, and song ” [Anonymous]

A tricolon is a series of three parallel elements (words or phrases). In a strict tricolon, the elements have the same length but this condition is often put aside.

Examples of tricola include:

  • “Veni, vidi, vici. ” [Julius Caesar]
  • “ Be sincere, be brief, be seated. ” [Advice for speakers from Franklin D. Roosevelt]
  • “ Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation – not because of [1] the height of our skyscrapers, or [2] the power of our military, or [3] the size of our economy. ” [Barack Obama, Keynote speech to Democratic National Convention, July 2004]

Contemporary Speech Examples using the Rule of Three

“ Using the Rule of Three allows you to express concepts more completely, emphasize your points, and increase the memorability of your message. ”

Nearly every speech critiqued on Six Minutes has wielded the magic of the Rule of Three, as shown by numerous examples below.

  • Click through the links to read the detailed analysis.
  • Watch the speech being delivered, and note the delivery of these key triads.
  • Note how memorable these passages are within the whole speech.

Examples like these cross a wide array of speech types and settings. You can study these examples, and then apply the lessons to your own speechwriting to see how you can incorporate the Rule of Three.

  • 5 Speechwriting Lessons from Obama’s Inaugural Speech
Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered.
  • Steve Jobs: Stanford Commencement Address, 2005
[1] It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. [2] It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. [3] It means to say your goodbyes.
  • Dalton Sherman: Do you believe?
You’re the ones [1] who feed us, [2] who wipe our tears, [3] who hold our hands or hug us when we need it.
  • J.A. Gamache: Toastmasters, 2007
A sandal of hope when you reach out. A sandal of joy when you listen to your heart. A sandal of courage when you dare to care.
  • Electrify Your Audience with a Shocking Speech Opening
Tobacco. [long pause] Alcohol. [long pause] Guns. [long pause] Criminal items seized in a search [slight pause] of a 6th grade locker in a bad school district .
  • Patrick Henry Winston: How to Speak
Your careers will be determined largely by how well you speak, by how well you write, and by the quality of your ideas… in that order.
  • Speech Preparation #6: Add Impact with Rhetorical Devices
… we cannot predict when the wind blows. We cannot predict how strong it will be. We certainly cannot predict its direction.

Other Magical Ways to Harness the Power of Three in Speechwriting

The next Six Minutes articles in this series show you how to apply the Rule of Three to speech outlines , and how to create humor with the Rule of Three to get your audience laughing.

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  • 8 Speechwriting Lessons You Can Learn from Songwriters
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You’ve put together a fantastic resource here. Another dimension of the Rule of Three is structure. The best stories, screenplays and folktales often have three parts to them. Olivia

Hi Olivia: Structure, indeed! That is the focus of the next article in this series… coming soon.

Love that Olivia, Wooo

You missed one of the most important groups of 3 ever … The 3 Stooges !

Great article. Well researched (except for missing the Stooges) and I really enjoyed it.

D. Mark “Dave” Wheeler

And the greatest.. The THREE… Musketeers.

OK they end up four.. so??

This proves that the rule of three works.. It attracts … (you name it) even more.

Thanks to the late Gail Jefferson, we’ve known for years that most lists people use in everyday conversation have three items in them. But I don’t believe there’s anything magical about it, for reasons given at: http://maxatkinson.blogspot.com/2008/11/why-so-many-lists-of-three-mystery.html .

I am, however, in no doubt about its rhetorical effect, which is why it’s dealt with in more detail in my book ‘Lend Me Your Ears’ (Chapter 6).

Thought you might appreciate this example from a training course we ran recently… we were working on exercises along these lines when one group came up with this fantastic summary of a good meal. 1/ Shopping 2/ Chopping 3/ Troughing

Pure genius! 🙂

I would also like to think that the rule of three also corresponds to the average attention span of an adult. when making a presentation, two seems to short while four is too much. three seems to be the perfect number to make a point. thanks. great post. 🙂

I love this article. I was thinking about this very concept yesterday. When I prepare for a seminar, I know that I have to take my research, audience, and purpose to create “The Three.” Five is fine, but people forget. Three can cover just enough bases.

Excellent article. To the point. Extremely useful. Thanks.

I have been groping in the dark for an area to talk on, at my 2nd Toastmaster speech. I loved “The Rule of Three” article! I’m a Malaysian born Indian and therefore by no stretch of the imagination, of western breeding. However, I loved your explanations elaborations on the rule of three. I also identify with the completeness conferred by “threes”; Just as the writer mentioned the holy trinity as an example, the hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva come to mind as an examples in Indian/ Southeast Asian culture. Classical Indian Music as well as languages such as Tamil and Sanskrit have numerous examples of the rule of three. You’ve inspired me to use these in some way for my 2nd Toastmaster speech! Thanks for the idea!

I found the blog. I read it. I’ll do it!

Many thanks for this invaluable resource. I will point my friends, colleagues and students towards it. Rgds Vince

PS – I remember George Bush saying about 5 years ago, that ‘What Iraq needs now is peace, justice and security.’ The three stuck in my mind…

Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll. 😉

Great article.

Excellent article on Speech- craft!! Here are two more triads: – Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic (sometimses the 3 ‘R’s) – Wine, Woman & Wealth (the 3 inducements)

My favorite example of the Rule of Three–and the one taught to my now adult children–“THREE IS A MAGIC NUMBER” from the Schoolhouse Rock education series! My grandbabies are now learning the tune(s)

Hey Andrew!

Great Article!

I really enjoyed the variety of sources you pulled from.

I find it amazing how much I actually think, speak, and write in “threes” without effort.

Whether the phenomenon of threes is something innate or a product of conditioning (most likely a bit of both), it is nevertheless powerful.

It just feels right. Syllogisms, Jokes, and Stories naturally take on the pattern

Good Job! Love the blog!

The rule of three is right under our noses, yet I never thought anything of it! An aha! moment you could say.

Direct, No-fluff, Excellent!

Thanks, Ben.

Very informative resource. Thanks Andrew.

Thank you for this article and all of your helpful articles! I just gave my first speech at Toastmasters and this site helped tremendously!!!

In sales which is life, there must be a begining,middle,end. The structure in all things!The Power of 3!!

Jimmy Crimmins

Thank you for send me these informations,they are very important for me.One of my dream is to be a public speaker and speechwriter and you are helping me out with these informstions, thank you again.

Very informative and useful tool I learned.

I have learnt so much and hope to learn even more with this information

Thanks for putting together so many useful links and examples Andrew. I’ve linked to your post from my blog – as many others have.

When speaking, you might also like these 3 tips to convey your talk’s key message. Or, as I like to call it, “Nail your point!”

I really enjoyed this read. I am working on a speech analysis essay. My speech is We shall overcome by President Lyndon Bb. Johnson. Thanks you.

Very interesting concept and well researched contentI will certainly implement ‘the rule of three’ in my presentations. thanks

these are useful tips thank you.

Great way to write a five paragraph essay with three supporting piece of evidence.

Wow! This article is so well thought and has many incredible and nostalgic references. Thanks for sharing Andrew. I will also be referencing this post on my blog post about what is public speaking and how to become a great public speaker.

Recent Tweets

Create speeches that are interesting, exciting & engaging – discover the rule of 3 in this fantastic blog: https://t.co/v97QybuPv5 @6minutes — @SpeechWorkshop Oct 26th, 2015
Veni, vidi, vici…. La puissance du rythme ternaire dans les discours : https://t.co/zYhAPFoLRU by @6minutes — @beatrice_toulon Feb 11th, 2016
@OfficeOfRG This isn’t a bad speech at all by RG, but he’s forgetting the rule of 3, tempo rising but falling badly. https://t.co/DTVNIFkH5K — @sowmyarao_ Mar 2nd, 2016
How to Use the Rule of Three in Your Speeches https://t.co/JgQcEmIYsY by @6minutes — @SleimanSkaf Apr 20th, 2016
“The rule of three is powerful speechwriting technique that you should learn, practice, and master.” https://t.co/H5KxDAuD0Y — @susanweiner Jun 25th, 2016
How to Use the Rule of Three in Your Speeches https://t.co/I6D4L9piLK by @6minutes #publicspeaking — Mel Sherwood (@Grow_Potential) Jul 5th, 2016
How to Use the Rule of Three in Your Speeches https://t.co/hnKMxkFuzL by @6minutes — @BrendaLiddy Nov 7th, 2016
How to Use the Rule of Three in Your Speeches https://t.co/TevSMrm6Bz — @reyaz4you May 17th, 2017
How to Use the Rule of Three in Your Speeches https://t.co/afLXkHwXYC by @6minutes https://t.co/ItHnWQMVnk — SparklingSpeech (@SparklingSpeech) Jul 16th, 2018
How to use the rule of three in your #speeches. https://t.co/OmYcxWNx8i @6minutes #coaching — Lauren Sergy (@lsergy) Feb 9th, 2019

26 Blog Links

Pivotal Public Speaking » How to Add Power or Humor with the Rule of Three — Jul 9th, 2009

Target Intellect Blog » The rule of three in public speaking — Jul 16th, 2009

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Orwell’s 6 Rules

From “Politics and the English Language”

  • Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

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The PhD Experience

  • Call for Contributions

George Orwell’s Six Rules for Writing: A Reassessment

rules of political speech writing


By Daniel Adamson |

In April 1946, George Orwell published a short essay entitled “Politics and the English Language”. Orwell’s clear intention was to remedy the pervasive ‘ugly and inaccurate’ written English in contemporary literature.

Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble.

Ultimately, Orwell’s efforts were underpinned by political concerns, in an era where propaganda had become the arme de choix of a range of oppressive political movements.

“Politics and the English Language” has become best known for its suggested six rules of writing, which might be employed in order to avoid poor writing. Since their publication, these guidelines have become much loved from amateur literary blogs to self-help websites.

Nonetheless, Orwell’s rules deserve reassessment. Much has changed since 1946: the map of Europe has been redrawn, 140-character tweets have become a primary mode of communication, and a global health crisis has brought the world to a standstill. Do Orwell’s rules, therefore, still hold firm? And what lessons might a PhD student garner from reading them?

rules of political speech writing

Rules for writing or rules for life?

Let us take Orwell’s six rules in turn, and consider the resonance each recommendation could carry for a PhD researcher in the twenty-first century

1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print

Originality is certainly a watchword of many PhD projects. The ability to break new ground within a dissertation is admirable. However, the quest to express oneself in an unprecedented way should not obscure the clear presentation of research findings. In some cases, certain metaphors or similes have become integrated into the English language precisely because they capture a sentiment in a particularly effective manner. In this case, their replication in a passage of PhD prose could be justified. A preoccupation with originality of prose has the converse potential to lead to the creation of phrases which are simply inappropriate. If writers cannot bring themselves to use an established figure of speech, the best advice might be to avoid elaborate language altogether: simply state an idea in plain terms.

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

Concision is essential in PhD research. A reader must be able to take away a clear picture of research findings. Equally, in the time-pressed academic world, accessible prose is a valued characteristic. The academic community is also global. English may not be the first language of any given reader. As such, the avoidance of archaic or obscure vocabulary is a sensible measure.

3. If  it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

Orwell’s prioritisation of economical prose will speak to many PhD students. A limit of 100,000 words is, at first, daunting for many researchers when starting to write a dissertation. Often, however, the eventual challenge will be deciding which words to omit from a final draft. As such, the implications of Orwell’s advice are sound. If a long phrase can be substituted for a shorter one, it creates more room for the inclusion of useful insights.

4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

Of all Orwell’s rules, this is perhaps the recommendation which is most dependent on personal preference. As long as the use of the passive voice does not obscure the clarity of prose (see rules 2 and 3), it seems somewhat drastic to forbid its use altogether. Rule number 4 might better be adapted to provide advice for life, rather than writing: ‘never be passive where you can be active’. The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated how opportunities can be snatched away in a tragically short period of time. As such, PhD students must take initiative in maximising their chances when they become available. Seek out what can be done given contextual circumstances, rather than waiting for opportunities to present themselves unprompted.

5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

The fifth rule in Orwell’s list is perhaps only partially applicable to PhD research publications. Particularly in scientific subjects, the use of technical vocabulary is unavoidable. Even in the arts and humanities, foreign words frequently can capture a notion that eludes the boundaries of the English language: glasnost , zeitgeist , détente and so forth. Once again, the use of specified words should not be pretentious, nor detract from the lucidity of research. One potential strategy is to include approximate English translations or explanations for more esoteric language.

6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

In all areas of academic life, the avoidance of barbarity should be encouraged. There is often little to gain from cruelty towards the work of others. Commonly, such conduct is merely a way of exerting power over those less senior, and is almost never constructive. Criticism is a necessary element of the PhD experience. However, it is most effective when it is used to improve research, rather than to belittle work. ‘Be kind’ has emerged as a maxim of the Coronavirus-era, and it is a motto which all academics should observe.

Respect, not rigidity

Overall, few would argue that Orwell’s six rules of writing do not provide a solid base around which to centre prose. Orwell did not intend his guidelines to be used by postgraduates, but PhD students can find value in several different aspects of the guidelines, particularly in relation to the economy and clarity of writing.

Orwell’s recommendations command respect, even in the twenty-first century. However, it is also rather tyrannical to suggest that a rigid set of rules should dictate universal writing habits. In this blog alone, Orwell’s rules have probably been broken in various ways.

The deployment of the English language is a highly-personalised action, and one which lends human beings a sense of individual character. PhD projects can benefit from a stamp of personality. If it takes breaking some of Orwell’s rules to achieve this in a dissertation, PhD students should proceed with confidence. Moderation, as always, is key.

Daniel Adamson is a PhD student in the History Department at Durham University. He tweets at @DanielEAdamson. 

Image 1 (open copyright): https://www.vautiercommunications.com/blog/6-rules-for-writing-george-orwell

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Ward and Smith, P.A., Law Firm North Carolina

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rules of political speech writing

Politics could hardly be more conspicuous these days. A monumental presidential election looms on the horizon, and it seems that everyone has an opinion.

Many who do have jobs and bring those opinions into the workplace. That's fine as long as those with opinions either keep them to themselves or are willing and able to share them, if they must, without distracting or upsetting others. Diplomacy and tact, however, are not exactly surging in popularity in the public square. Employers must therefore consider what they can do to prevent their workplaces from becoming embroiled in controversial debate, which can disrupt productivity, undermine morale, and lead to wasteful and expensive conflict. But what can employers lawfully and prudently do?

The answer depends on what kind of employer we're talking about.

The Distinction between Public and Private Employment

The answer hinges, first, on whether an employer is "public" – meaning associated with government – or "private." This distinction matters enormously because those in the first category are subjected to limitations imposed by the United States Constitution, whereas those in the second are not.

Many people believe that the U.S. Constitution – specifically the First Amendment – ensures their right to engage in "free speech" in all circumstances. But that's not true. In North Carolina (and presumably everywhere else in the U.S.), for example, no one has the right to defame another person with impunity. Or – according to the old saw at least – scream "Fire!" in a crowded theater when there obviously is no fire and thus cause a stampede that injures others. And the First Amendment doesn’t prohibit a  non-governmental  employer from limiting speech of any kind. It provides in relevant part only that " Congress  shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech", and therefore limits only what  government  – whether federal or state – may do. (Courts decided long ago that the First Amendment applies to the states, too.)  It has nothing to do with purely private conduct. Speech, in other words, is protected only from  governmental  intrusion.

So what is a "public employer"? Generally speaking, it is a federal or state or state-related governmental agency, such as any branch or office of federal, state, county, or municipal government, and includes state-funded colleges and universities.  All other employers are considered "private employers."

Legal Limits on Free Speech

A. Public Employment

Public employers must take caution before restricting speech. Employees of such employers are not deprived of their First Amendment rights by virtue of their status as government employees. The speech of a public employee, if his or her employer wants to prohibit or limit it, must be examined with regard to content, form, and the context in which made. No clear test does or could precisely describe the kind of speech that a public employer may subject to "prior restraint" or punish after it has been made, but – again generally speaking – the question will be whether an employee whose speech is in question wishes to speak – or spoke – in the capacity of a  citizen  regarding a matter of  public concern  or, rather, for some other reason, such as only to advance a  personal interest . When speaking only as a citizen regarding a matter of public concern, the employee's speech is likely to be protected, whereas speaking only to promote one's personal interests probably won't be.

Even when speaking regarding public concerns, there are limits – in the context of governmental employment – on what employees may say. Courts evaluate speech on public concerns in the context of governmental employment by balancing the interests of the employee in speaking freely against the employer's interest in restricting free speech. A public employer that wants to restrict it had, therefore, better have a compelling reason to do so.

B. Private Employment

Private employers, in contrast, if they wish and believe it prudent to do so, are generally free in North Carolina to limit the speech of their employees within the workplace (and, for that matter, elsewhere, as imperious as that would be). They may establish rules prohibiting speech without fear of  constitutional  restrictions because such restrictions don’t apply to private entities unless some kind of "state action" is involved. Private employers' freedom to control what their employees say, however, is subject to a considerable  statutory  limitation. But more about that in a few.

Blurring the Lines

Private employers are not as likely to confront limits on their right to restrict speech as are public employers, but even private employers can encounter them if they are deemed "state actors" or engage in "state action."  Four tests have been developed and used by courts to determine whether conduct by a private employer amounts to "state action" and therefore subjects the private employer to constitutional limitations: they are (1) the public-function test; (2) the nexus test; (3) the symbiotic-relationship test; and (4) the joint-action test.  In a nutshell:

The public-function test ascertains whether a private employer acted in a way traditionally and exclusively reserved to the state, such as by holding elections or performing typically municipal functions;

The nexus test considers whether the state ordered or influenced a decision to such an extent that the action of a private party amounts to that of the state, such as when state law facilitates a private party's abuse of a citizens' rights;

The symbiotic-relationship test determines whether the state is so intertwined with a private party that the private party's actions should be deemed those of the state, such as when a restaurant leases and uses a state-owned building and the state finances the upkeep of the space; and

The joint-action test evaluates whether a private party willfully participated in joint action with state agents to such an extent that the distinct actions of the private and state actors should be deemed to be the actions of both.

If any of these tests apply, then private employers will be subject to the same constitutional restrictions as public employers. Private employers should therefore ensure that they know when their actions may implicate those of the "state."

Private Employers and the NLRA

Regardless of whether "state action" is involved, almost all private employers are subject to the "National Labor Relations Act" of 1935. That Act, in part, protects the right of employees to "engage in … concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection", and to join together to try to improve their wages and working conditions ( regardless  of whether a labor union is involved). Protection of that right applies to work-related discussions, whether oral or written, such as but not limited to those that may occur in internet-based social media. Even private employers should, therefore, avoid policies and practices that  could be construed  as limiting employees' rights to engage in such speech. Alleged violation of that right can result in an "unfair labor practice" charge before the National Labor Relations Board, which has the right to – and often does – enforce the Act in the context of private employment.

What IS an Employer to do?

 a.  public employment.

Public employers must be willing to distinguish an employee's speech as a citizen on a matter of public concern from speech undertaken for some other reason and must have the wisdom to know the difference. Speech made by an employee on behalf of the employer can lawfully be limited because even a public employer has the right to restrict and frame its own message. Employees' comments about political campaigns and elections can easily be construed as speech regarding a matter of public concern, but public employers may, carefully and judiciously, require employees to refrain from conduct – even verbal conduct – that is so likely to inflame co-workers that productivity and morale may be jeopardized. The trick, of course, will be how to do so without inviting a legal challenge. Consulting informed legal counsel would be the place to start.

Private employers in North Carolina (but for the noted NLRA exception that applies to about every private employer) enjoy wide latitude as to how they may lawfully restrict employee-speech. But that's only where the analysis begins. The critical question turns not on what private employers may do but rather on what they should. If they want to impose restrictions on what their employees say in the workplace about delicate subjects – and what could be more delicate these days for many people than their political views and allegiances – then they should lay those restrictions out in a well-crafted written personnel policy (perhaps written by someone who does that for a living). The policy should express, as plainly as possible, the purpose of the restrictions, the kinds of speech and behavior that are and are not out of bounds, and the results that may follow violation of the policy. No one wants to feel "censored," but most employees, if informed of a clear policy and persuaded as to why the policy is needed to preserve harmony in the workplace, will be happy to go along.

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Frantically Speaking

The Power of the Rule of Three in Speech Writing

Hrideep barot.

  • Public Speaking , Speech Writing

3 spotlights to emphasise the rule of three in speech writing

A well-delivered speech, a speech that leaves an impact, always has these small nuances that make it as impactful as they are. They aren’t necessarily details you find in books or papers. It might not even stand out to the audience on a conscious level.

But these finer details are what take a speech from good to great. The rule of three is one such finer nuance that you can add to your speech to make your message a little more complete, powerful and memorable! (see what I did there?)

What is the Rule of Three and its importance?

When it comes to public speaking, the rule of three is when you use three statements to iterate a single message. It is a writing technique that focuses on a trio of events or characters as it is more humorous, satisfying, or effective.

Why is that important? Because we as humans tend to remember a message more clearly when it is presented thrice. Think about it – the most famous quotes use the rule of three:

  • Blood sweat and tears
  • Veni, vidi, vici (I came, I saw, I conquered)
  • Government of the people, by the people, for the people

Here are some examples of the rule of three in some of the most famous speeches in history:

We can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. Abraham Lincoln (Gettysburg Address)
Never in the history of human endeavor has so much  been owed by  so many   to so few Winston Churchil (Wartime Speech)
Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Barack Obama (Inaugural Speech)

Obama giving a speech.

The words are not the same, but three examples or statements to drive home one message can become a powerful sentence.

Powerful openers are a great way of catching the attention of the audience. Read our article on 15 Powerful Speech Opening Lines (And How to Create Your Own) to learn more about creative openers and their implementation in your speech.

Importance of Rule of Three in Public Speaking

Saying something three times is enough to create some sort of pattern. The first time you say it, it’s just a word. The second time you say it, it creates intrigue and the third time you say it, it creates a trilogical pattern.

You can also break patterns for humour using the rule of three which we shall get to later in the article. The rule has multiple purposes. I’ve seen speakers use it to evoke different emotions in their audiences.

I remember this one speaker – what an amazing speech he gave. His title itself used this technique of three. It was called: Push, Pull, Love. The speech beautifully rounded up the speaker’s message continuously leveraging the rule of three. Needless to say, most of us remember it to this day.

Using the power of three, you can better inform your audience, make them laugh or even motivate them!

Keeping the focus on a single message and repeating them in different ways throughout your presentation, is certain to create maximum impact. It’s simply a great way to add more spice to your speech and make it all the more powerful!

“Tell them what you going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you just told them” – Dale Carnegie

How to Incorporate the Rule of Three Into Your Speeches

One of the simplest ways of using the rule of three in your speeches is by slicing your entire speech up into three parts. And by that, I don’t mean slice it up into an introduction, body and conclusion (that’s obvious!). But instead, break up your body into three further ideas.

Speeches are powerful when they have three ideas that drive home the same message.

I’ve written about this previously as well. For example, when you use three anecdotes which talk about a problem, you can use two different situations which showcase the problem and the third story can be the game-changer – where you find a problem to that solution. Lots of speakers do that and it works wonders!

Writing and delivering good content is not enough when it comes to public speaking, structuring a speech in order to deliver an effective message is also as crucial as the former. Read our article on The Ultimate Guide to Structuring a Speech to learn ways to structure your speech.

How to Say it in a Sentence or Phrase

When using the rule of three in sentences, don’t just say all three words/phrases normally. Saying something in a sort of trilogy can have a lot of impact – so you should say it correctly! I’ve seen speakers who use this technique without even knowing it, but it really makes no difference to their speech. They either say it in a very monotonous tone or say it too quickly or slowly.

When using the rule of three, make sure you say it a manner that tells a micro-story in itself. The first word is the intro, the second is the build-up and the third is the conclusion. Unfortunately, there is no one way to say it. It completely depends on your speech and the kind of emotion you are trying to evoke.

Experiment with different methods – try saying it fast, try saying it slowly but with more emotion, try rushing through the first two and slowing down for the last one.

There are multiple permutations and combinations you can try! Have fun with it and see which one works best for you!

How to Use the Rule of Three for Humour

We might define comedy as the unexpected   contrasted to the expected. This is probably why completely unexpected (almost random) jokes stand out and make us laugh the hardest! However, a clever way to incorporate humour would be to build up an expectation, make the audience feel they “get” what’s coming next…and then smash it!

The rule of three can be a powerful tool to use to make your audience roar with laughter doing just that. The reason it works is that the rule of three allows you to build up (but not finish) a pattern. When you say two things which are in relation to each other, the audience has an expectation for the third thing. They have a perceived notion in their minds. When you break that, it creates humour.

A brilliant example of this is a speaker I saw at Toastmasters . He was talking about his college days – about how he had these big dreams but eventually ended up in a dull 9-5 job.

Here is one line he used to make the audience laugh using the rule of three:

“I wanted to become a dancer, become the Michael Jackson of my city! And as you all would expect, I ended up becoming…an accountant.”

It might not sound very funny in text. The way you say it also counts. Let me try and help you visualize that:

“[1] I wanted to become a dancer {said it with a lot of swagger and a big smirk}, [2] become the Michael Jackson of my city {continued to build on that grandeur with his body language}! And as you all would expect [3] I ended up becoming {maintained the same, cocky body language} …an accountant {completely changed his body language and tone of voice to sounding very disgusted in himself}.”

Even Seth MacFarlane , the comedian who went on to create the beloved show Family Guy , used the Rule of Three brilliantly in his Harvard Commencement speech back in 2006.

While talking about his New England origins, Seth goes on to say (in a British accent) “While I treasure my formative years in the land of chowder, lobster and gonorrhea…”

As soon as he said gonorrhea the audience burst out laughing!

Seth MacFarlene using the rule of three.

Watch how does that here .

Rule of Three for Persuasion

The reason the rule of three is used in so many speeches is that its ability to persuade is superbly powerful.

It’s because of the way we as humans process information. Pattern recognition is something we are amazing at – we’ve been conditioned to do so, and the reason the rule of three works for well is because three is the smallest number required to create a pattern.

It helps the message stick. It helps the message be remembered long after the speech. It helps the message manifest into action.

Take Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Here is a highly persuasive excerpt from one of history’s most iconic speeches:

“ We can never be satisfied  as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.  We can never be satisfied  as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities.  We cannot be satisfied  as long as the negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one.

“ With this faith , we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.  With this faith , we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.  With this faith , we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”

See how he uses the rule of three here? Bold statements like these and repetition made his speech as persuasive as it is.

When trying to persuade someone, also think of using the rule of three as a mindset – that is – talk about the other person three times as often as you talk about yourself. This helps highlight to the other person what’s in it for them which is key to persuasion.

In order to better understand the art of persuasion, read our extensively written article on The Secret of Writing a Persuasive Speech (On Any Topic) | Ethos, Logos, Pathos is Not Enough .

When you use the rule of three, it’s not just what you say that matters, but how you say it as well. Combine the two together and you have yourself a powerful, memorable and (sometimes) humorous statement!

Hrideep Barot

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rules of political speech writing

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George Orwell’s Six Rules for Writing

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Cris Trautner 10/10/18

George Orwell published his essay “Politics and the English Language” in April 1946 after a second world war and one of the most extensive uses of propaganda in an era of mass media. In the essay, he offers an argument, and guidance, for clear writing.

Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble.

From 1933 until the end of World War II in 1945, the Nazi propaganda machine spread its gospel of violence to acquire and maintain power. Albert Speer, Hitler’s lead architect, said at the Nuremberg trials that “what distinguished the Third Reich from all previous dictatorships was its use of all the means of communication to sustain itself and to deprive its objects of the power of independent thought.”

“Politics and the English Language” reflected Orwell’s great concern with truth and language and how deliberately misleading language is used to conceal disagreeable political facts. It wasn’t a new theme for him. Animal Farm had been published the previous August, and Orwell was beginning work on Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Orwell’s Six Rules for Writing

These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable.

To guide writers into writing clearly and truthfully, Orwell proposed the following six rules:

  • Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Orwell’s Six Rules are a good reminder to anyone who proposes to communicate accurately. They have an enduring freshness to them, significant to all times and places.

Owell's Politics and the English Language, page 139

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rules of political speech writing

Michael Moore

rules of political speech writing

President Biden’s Political Science Theater 3000 (a running commentary on free speech and the “rule of law”)

Michael Moore

Last week our President offered to school the young on when speech and assembly are free and tolerable — and when they are NOT!

Today I offer my own running commentary with my annotated verbal notes on where Biden has it right, and where he has it so weirdly, mistakenly wrong (see: Old White Dude vs Ancient White Man or Michigan v. Delaware, 2024 ).

Please listen, and share.

A transcript of today’s episode will soon be available here .

Click here to leave me a 60-second voice message (I might play it on a future podcast episode).

Leave a comment

** In order to have a troll-free, hate-free comments section — and because if there’s one thing I know about my crazy haters, they would rather spend an eternity in hell with Marjorie Taylor Greene than send me $5 if forced to become a paid subscriber — my Comments section here on my Substack is limited to paid subscribers. But , not to worry — anyone can send me their comments, opinions and thoughts by writing to me at  [email protected] . I read every one of them, though obviously I can’t respond to all. The solution here is not optimal but it has worked and my Comments section has become a great meeting place for people wanting to discuss the ideas and issues I raise here. There is debate and disagreement, but it is refreshing to have it done with respect and civility, unfettered by the stench of bigotry and Q-anon insanity.

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rules of political speech writing

Pa. House passes social media rules for kids amid free speech concerns

  • Updated: May. 09, 2024, 6:44 a.m. |
  • Published: May. 08, 2024, 6:54 p.m.
  • Zack Hoopes | [email protected]

A bill creating rules for children’s social media use passed the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on Wednesday after an extensive re-write that assuaged some but not all of the issues raised regarding young people’s privacy rights and potential free speech violations.

The measure passed on a somewhat unusual vote of 105-to-95 in the Democratic-majority House, with 10 Republicans — including some of the chamber’s most frequent swing votes — voting in favor and seven of the body’s more progressive Democrats voting against.

The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Brian Munroe, D-Bucks County, said he wrote the bill with the assistance of students from his district who won an award for their documentary on the pitfalls of social media.

Munroe cited the “ongoing negative impact on our youth’s mental health” from a barrage of content from Facebook, TikTok, YouTube and other platforms that reinforce negative emotions and increase rates of anxiety and depression.

“This was a cry for help from a generation suffering the brunt of social media’s impact,” Munroe said on the House floor Wednesday, adding that the companies responsible have “raked in profits with minimal accountability.”

Brian Munroe

The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Brian Munroe, D-Bucks County, said Wednesday he wrote the bill with the assistance of students from his district who won an award for their documentary on the pitfalls of social media. Provided by the League of Women Voters

The Pennsylvania chapters of Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union were — at least at first — stridently opposed to Monroe’s legislation, which previously contained a clause requiring social media companies to monitor the accounts of users under age 16 in order to flag content “deemed sensitive or graphic” and report it to their parents or guardians.

That requirement could inhibit youth from seeking help on issues they’re not yet comfortable broaching with their parents, Planned Parenthood said — an obvious concern for the organization given its work in reproductive and sexual health.

But a major revision of the bill this week struck the content-flagging section and replaced it with a requirement for social media platforms to respond to reports of “hateful conduct,” causing Planned Parenthood to change its stance to neutral.

The ACLU remains opposed, noting that the “hateful conduct” section appears to be copied verbatim from a New York law that was enjoined from enforcement last year by a federal court, which found it was likely a First Amendment violation.

The bill, as passed by the House, now states that social media platforms must provide reporting mechanisms for “hateful conduct” and respond to users with details of how the report is being resolved, with hateful conduct defined as social media use in order to “vilify, humiliate or incite violence against a group” based on race, religion, disability, gender, etc.

The bill also contains a disclaimer that it does not obligate social media platforms to do anything that “adversely affects the rights or freedoms of an individual,” with Munroe stressing Wednesday that “we’re not monitoring chats” as the previous draft of his bill suggested.

Despite this, the ACLU argued that – drawing on the New York case – the “hateful conduct” section is effectively requiring social media platforms to adopt a government-mandated definition of acceptable speech, which is still a First Amendment violation, albeit a more roundabout one.

The bill as passed Wednesday also contains a section requiring social media platforms to “make commercially reasonable efforts to verify the age of users upon the creation of an account,” and if that user is under 16, obtain consent from the user’s parent or guardian.

Several other states have recently enacted similar measures on parental consent for children’s social media use. Many have faced legal challenges from civil rights groups and social media companies, arguing that the laws place overly broad burdens on protected speech; such cases are currently working their way through the courts in Ohio , Arkansas and elsewhere.

Planned Parenthood PA wrote this week that “we still question the constitutionality of legislating age requirements for social media accounts,” but that the revision to Munroe’s bill “deals with some of the more concerning pieces in the original bill that are more firmly rooted in our values as sexual and reproductive health advocates.”

Munroe’s bill also contains a third section establishing limits on the collection and sale of user data from minors, and requiring opt-ins for certain features, similar to the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

The Pennsylvania Senate has floated similar measures, but as Spotlight PA reported earlier this year, the chamber has seen divisions similar to those in the House, with libertarian-minded Republicans and progressive-minded Democrats expressing skepticism.

Read more political news

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Speechwriting in Perspective: A Brief Guide to Effective and Persuasive Communication

February 25, 1998 – April 12, 2007 98-170

The frequent delivery of public remarks by Senators and Representatives is an important element of their roles as community leaders, spokespersons, and freely elected legislators. Congressional staff are often called on to help prepare draft remarks for such purposes.

Writing for the spoken word is a special discipline; it requires that congressional speechwriters’ products be written primarily, although not exclusively, to be heard, not read. Speeches are better cast in simple, direct, and often short sentences that can be easily understood by listeners. Rhetorical devices such as repetition, variation, cadence, and balance are available to, and should be used by, the speechwriter.

It is important for speechwriters to analyze audiences according to factors such as age; gender; culture; profession; size of audience; political affiliation, if any; and the occasion for, and purpose of, the speech. Most effective speeches do not exceed 20 minutes in length.

After researching a topic, speechwriters should prepare an outline from which the speech will be developed. They should strive to maintain a clear theme throughout the speech. Most speeches will have a three-part structure consisting of an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.

The accepted style of contemporary American public address is natural, direct, low key, casual, and conversational. This puts listeners at ease and promotes a sense of community between audience and speaker.

Punctuation should reflect the sound structure of the speech, reinforcing the rhythm and pace of actual speech. Clarity of expression is as important a consideration in speech grammar as rigid adherence to rules for written language.

Effective delivery can greatly improve a speech. Congressional speechwriters should make every effort to become familiar with the speaking style of the Member for whom they are writing, and adjust their drafts accordingly.

A wide range of speechwriting resources are available for congressional staff from the Congressional Research Service and other sources.

Topic areas

Domestic Social Policy

  • Introduction

Writing For The Spoken Word: The Distinctive Task of The Speechwriter

Repetition and variation, cadence and balance, rhythmic triads, parallelism, alliteration, sentence variation, rhetorical questions, sentence fragments, inverted order, suspension for climax, use of conjunctions, audience analysis, demographics, audience size, degree of political affiliation, occasion and purpose, information, entertainment, time and length, time of day, how many words, speech research, speechwriting resources, policy resources, additional resources, speech preparation, building blocks: suggested principles, the speech outline, thematic clarity, three-part structure, techniques of persuasion, attention-problem-solution, this or nothing, contemporary style and tone, pitfalls to be avoided, punctuation, grammar and syntax, speech presentation, analysis of lincoln's farewell to his neighbors, general observations.

Writing for the spoken word is a special discipline; it requires that congressional speechwriters' products be written primarily, although not exclusively, to be heard, not read. Speeches are better cast in simple, direct, and often short sentences that can be easily understood by listeners. Rhetorical devices such as repetition, variation, cadence, and balance are available to, and should be used by, the speechwriter.

Introduction 1

"Rhetoric," wrote Aristotle, "is the power of determining in a particular case what are the available means of persuasion." This report reviews some effective means for the rhetoric of persuasive communication in speeches written by congressional staff for Senators and Representatives. By speeches, this report means draft statements prepared for oral delivery by Members. Such speeches are often prepared under the pressure of deadlines that leave minimal time for extensive revision. Moreover, they must often be drafted in whole or part for Members who may have little opportunity to edit and amend them. The burdens of public office (as well as of campaigning) and the insistent demand for speeches of every kind for a variety of occasions require some degree of reliance on speechwriters, a reliance that is heightened by the limitations of time and the urgencies of the media.

A speech thus "ghostwritten" should nevertheless reflect the intention and even the style of the speaker. The best ghostwriters are properly invisible; they subordinate themselves to the speaker in such a way that the final product is effectively personalized in the process of actual communication. The only ways to achieve or even approach this ideal are practice and experience. This report seeks to provide some guidance for congressional staff on the principles and practice of speechwriting. The suggestions offered herein, when combined with practice, attention to audience and occasion, and, most importantly, the Member's attitudes, convictions, and style, can help create a speech that can be a "seamless garment" when delivered by the Member.

Writing effective speeches requires a constant awareness of the distinction between the written and the spoken word: the speechwriter must learn to "write aloud." While the best speeches read as well as they sound, the novice speechwriter should give priority to the ear and not the eye. His or her speech must be written to be heard, not read.

This means that easy intelligibility should be a paramount concern, so that the listening span is not strained. One of the first rules of the speechwriting profession is that a sentence written to be heard should be simple, direct, and short. When the speechwriter "writes aloud," George Orwell's advice to cut out any word that can possibly be cut is helpful, so long as the resulting effect is clarity, and not verbal shorthand. 2 Ciceronian oratory on the one hand and Dick-and-Jane simplicity on the other are extremes to be avoided. The speechwriter thus faces the challenge of crafting words that convey the speaker's meaning clearly, but that also draw on the rich nuance and texture of spoken English.

The average spoken sentence runs from eight to 16 words; anything longer is considered more difficult for listeners to follow by ear, and according to one expert, may be too long for the average listener to absorb and analyze quickly. 3 By comparison, written sentences of up to 30 words are easily understood by average readers. 4 Given these generally accepted limitations, what devices are available to the writer to make more complex sentences and speech wording accessible to the listener? Complex sentences can be clarified by repeating key words and using simple connections. By numerous rhetorical techniques, the speaker states, restates, and states again in different ways, the central themes of the speech.

Repetition with variation is a basic speechwriting tool used by many of the greatest speakers to emphasize key elements while avoiding monotony. Some examples follow.

  • Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech was a striking example of this technique, using that phrase to introduce a series of his visions for a better future.
  • Lincoln at Gettysburg emphasized the significance of the day's events by restating the solemnity of the occasion in not fewer than three variations: "We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground, ..."
  • Similarly, Winston Churchill's World War II speeches used repetition with variation to build a powerful climax: "We shall fight in France and on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on the beaches and landing grounds, in fields, in streets and on the hills, ... we shall never surrender."
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1937 "One third of a Nation" speech imparted a sense of urgency by his deliberate repetition of a "here are" construction to describe conditions in the country, followed again and again with "now":

Here is one-third of a nation ill-nourished, ill-clad, ill-housed—NOW.

Here are thousands upon thousands of farmers wondering whether next year's prices will meet their mortgage interest—NOW.

Here are thousands upon thousands of men and women laboring for long hours in factories for inadequate pay—NOW.

Another venerable rhetorical device is the use of cadence and balance in the spoken word. This is a part of speechwriting where the speaker and the writer need cooperation to ensure success. The tradition of public speaking in the English language owes much to the poetic tradition, which was originally an oral tradition. As one observer noted, "the language of the speech should also be poetic —replete with alliteration, metaphor, and other figures of speech. Such adornments, far from being superfluous, enhance meaning and emphasize relationships among ideas." 5 As difficult to define as to achieve, cadence and balance impart movement and harmonious effect to any speech. Essentially a matter of ordering groups of words (and ideas) into rhythmic patterns, cadence and balance can be attained by such classical rhetorical devices as the ones described below. Do not be put off by the classic Greek names of some of these rhetorical devices; in practice we use them naturally in conversation and writing every day.

The grouping of words into patterns of three can lead to a memorable effect, provided the device is not overused. Some notable examples from classic oratory include " Veni, vidi, vici "; "Never ... was so much owed by so many to so few"; "The kingdom, the power, and the glory ..."; "I have not sought, I do not seek, I repudiate the support of ..."; "one third of a nation ill-clad, ill-nourished, ill-housed...."

The linkage of similar words or ideas in a balanced construction that repeatedly uses the same grammatical form to convey parallel or coordinated ideas: "Bigotry has no head and cannot think; no heart and cannot feel;" "Charity beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."

The repetition of initial sounds in a series of words to give emphasis. For instance, "We need to return to that old-fashioned notion of competition—where substance, not subsidies, determines the winner," or, "... the nattering nabobs of negativism...."

This is the repetition of the same word or words at the beginning of successive clauses or sentences. Churchill's famous defiance of Hitler, "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds ...," which has been previously cited, is one of the most famous examples.

A common form of parallel structure comparing and contrasting dissimilar elements. For instance, "... give me liberty, or give me death."; "Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country."; "To some generations much is given; from others, much is demanded ..."; "A great empire and little minds go ill together."; "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of folly."; "If Puritanism was not the godfather to Capitalism, then it was godson."

This technique involves more than alternating longer sentences with short ones. The writer may employ either periodic sentences, that is, those in which the main clause comes at the end, or loose sentences, in which the main clause is presented at or near the beginning, to be followed by other main or subordinate clauses. Sentence variation also includes the use of such devices as those described below.

"Is peace a rash system?" "Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?" The speaker leads the audience to the conclusion he hopes they will draw by asking a question that makes his point, and that he intends to answer himself, either immediately, with a flourish, or at greater length during his remarks, through patient exposition.

"Dear money. Lower credit. Less enterprise in business and manufacture. A reduced home demand. Therefore, reduced output to meet it." The speaker dramatizes the situation by reducing it to a stark declaration, which he renders more striking by pausing to let the facts sink in after each sentence fragment.

"With what dignity and courage they perished in that day." This classic rhetorical practice, once more widely used, seeks to embellish the general flow of words, much like an ornament or a musical flourish. It also helps give a particular sentence special emphasis by causing it to stand out from others by its unusual form.

With this device, the speaker comes to a complete stop in his remarks, using the ensuing moment of silence to concentrate the listeners' attention on his next phrase. "My obligation as President is historic; it is clear; yes, it is inescapable." Even periodic sentences, if used with care, repeating the "suspended" subject or verb before modifying phrases or clauses can contribute to the effect: "Thus did he prove to be a leader who—victorious in battle, magnanimous in victory, skilled in the arts of peace—was able, in the face of his most determined foes ..."

Repeating key words and using simple connective conjunctions ( and , for , because , but ) can make many complex sentences more easily intelligible to the ear by breaking them up into "bite size" segments. For instance, "Be a craftsmen in speech that thou mayest be strong, for the strength of one is the tongue, and speech is mightier than all fighting."

No speech will sound fresh and vivid if it is not animated by imaginative imagery, by metaphor in its many forms: "the hatred of entrenched greed"; "America will always stand for liberty"; "Democracy is the healthful lifeblood which circulates through the veins and arteries of society ..."; "Whether in chains or in laurels, liberty knows nothing but victories."

Extended metaphors or analogies, comparing similarities in different things, should be used with care so that the principal subject will not be lost in the image. Two or more metaphors in a single sentence or thought can be safely ventured only by the most experienced writers—"To take arms against a sea of troubles"—without incurring ridicule (as in the famous—and perhaps apocryphal—example attributed to the newspaper Pravda , the onetime propaganda organ of the Soviet Communist Party: "The fascist octopus has sung its swan-song").

Above all, in the spoken word there must be an element of identity and rapport with the listener, whether the speaker uses a "natural" conversational tone or a more oratorical style. Effective speechwriting for Congress is not a branch of "creative writing." Its "rules" are meant to foster clarity of expression, whatever the occasion and purpose of any given speech. Mere clarity is not enough for persuasive rhetoric, however. Indeed, there are times when clarity, brevity, and the like are not appropriate. The issues, because of their import and complexity, may preclude such treatment; similarly, the gravity or delicate political nature of the occasion may call for some measure of deliberate ambiguity. The best speechwriter will take into account the context of the speech and the speaker's personality, the image that is projected—that is, the speaker whom the audience sees and hears. The section on speech analysis in this report attempts a closer look at Lincoln's great Farewell Address at Springfield, illustrating many of the principles considered in this report.

What Jefferson Bates called "audience analysis" is probably the single most important factor to be considered in writing every speech: know your listeners, and you will have a much better chance of connecting with them. 6

Bates and others list a number of criteria useful in audience analysis, including, among others: age; gender; culture; education; profession ; size of the audience; and affiliation. 7 Age is obviously an important factor; high school students, young parents, and senior citizens have different levels of life experience, different interests reflecting the challenges they face at their particular stages of life, and, to some extent, they even speak different languages. Although gender differences in societal roles are less pronounced than a generation ago, some believe that certain persistent disparities of viewpoint between many men and women on some topics persist. With respect to "culture," William Wiethoff, in Writing the Speech , states that it "has escaped a standard or preferred definition. Speechwriters, however, may envision culture as the race, customs, and religion shared by members of an audience." 8 The factors of education, profession, and income level can be a pitfall for the unwary speechwriter. Never confuse education with intelligence, or professional status and worldly success with moral superiority or virtue, or modest means and educational attainment with the opposite.

The writer must be sensitive to these varying frames of reference found in an audience. Draft remarks should be familiar, sympathetic, and topical, without being condescending. They must, as always, be phrased in a way that is natural for the Member; it is painfully obvious to an audience if a Member is not comfortable in his role or with his words.

The size of an audience is another important factor in preparing a speech. A large audience and a formal occasion usually call for greater formality in language and delivery, lengthier remarks, and greater reliance on some of the classical rhetorical practices cited in this report. By comparison, many Members will require only talking points for a town meeting, and will almost certainly speak extemporaneously in still more intimate gatherings. In the age of cable and satellite television, and Webcasts, the Member is often asked to address what may appear to be a very small group of listeners physically present at the broadcast venue; at the same time, however, many others, perhaps thousands, may be viewing from other locations, or from their homes. It is the writer's task to craft remarks that simultaneously take into consideration the people physically present in the studio or location, and those who may be watching from home or other locations.

Speechwriters must also condition their words to the degree of political affiliation, or lack thereof, in the intended audience. A gathering of the party faithful is usually ready for some "red meat." An audience consisting of a non-partisan citizen's group, such as the League of Women Voters, is almost certainly not. The writer must also always remember that, while the Member is affiliated with one political party, and comes from a particular part of the state or district, he or she represents all the people, and gives due attention and respect to the legitimate views and aspirations of all constituents.

Another of the speechwriter's tasks is to assess the occasion at which the Member has been asked to speak and tailor the remarks accordingly. In contemporary society, the delivery of remarks by public figures is an expected element in almost every secular public ceremony, and at many religious services. The speechwriter must ensure that the occasion and the speech agree with one another, in both tone and content.

For instance, Veterans' Day and Memorial Day are among the most solemn public holidays in the calendar. For these two events, the speechwriter should focus on themes of commemoration, service, and sacrifice. The atmosphere should appropriately be both somber, and hopeful: "their sacrifice led to a better, more secure life for those who followed them." High school and college commencements are of a different genre altogether. The occasion may demand inspirational remarks, but as one observer noted, "I've heard speakers ... deliver a tedious, solemn policy address at graduation ceremonies in which the graduates and families just want to hit the exits and have a good time." 9 Conversely, a formal address to a learned society will differ dramatically from friendly remarks at a neighborhood picnic, town meeting, or retirement home. Simply put, the writer should exercise common sense in preparing remarks appropriate in tone and content to both the audience and the occasion.

Another useful consideration for congressional staff is to plan the delivery of substantive remarks on substantive occasions. If the Member is scheduled to announce a major policy statement or initiative, it should be delivered in commensurate surroundings, and on occasions when media coverage will be adequate. Timing is also a serious factor; speeches delivered at mid-morning, at lunchtime, or early afternoon at the latest, are far more likely to be covered that same day by local TV news.

The purpose of a speech and the occasion at which it will be delivered are closely related. Most frequently, the latter will govern the former. William E. Wiethoff suggests a "purpose" template for speechwriters in Writing the Speech . 10 In it he establishes three categories of purpose: information , persuasion , and entertainment .

These speeches seek to convey facts or information to the audience. The speaker first identifies the information that is about to be presented, seeking to link the new facts with others the listeners may already be aware of. Next, the speaker elaborates on the details of the information just conveyed, while avoiding a level of complexity and detail that would confuse the audience. Finally, the speaker draws together the facts and ideas related earlier, ideally recapitulating the main points in order to fix them in the listener's memory.

The persuasive speech is a two-edged sword: it can seek to instill in the listeners either the acceptance of, or at least a more favorable opinion toward, a particular condition, fact, or concept. This variant is described as advocacy . Conversely, a speech may also attempt to change an audience's impressions, opinions, or most ambitiously, their convictions. Wiethoff calls this dissent , and asserts that it is more difficult than advocacy, since the speaker faces the burden of proving to the listeners that what they have heretofore accepted should be modified or rejected. 11 In both cases, the writer must marshal the arguments that will convince the audience.

Wiethoff's third category of speech purpose is entertainment. A great percentage, perhaps a majority, of Member speeches will fall into this category. The choice of title for this group may be misleading, however. These are not necessarily frivolous occasions, and they are not unimportant to the life and people of a town or village, students at a school, or members of a club who constitute the audience for such remarks. Speeches in this category serve the vital function of reinforcing the common ties and experiences that bind communities together and help reinforce the vitality of civic life in America. As Wiethoff notes:

These speeches are delivered during ceremonies or rituals that are significant in themselves. They do not need clarification in order to be understood. They do not need proof of their importance. Instead, on these occasions people share an expectation of what will happen, and they are dissatisfied if the events do not take place as expected. 12

"Entertainment" speeches may be solemn in nature, such as a Memorial Day address, or celebratory, such as remarks at the opening of a new school, library, or child-care facility. They remind citizens of their joint identity as members of a community; these events, seemingly everyday, or even trite, are actually vital expressions of civic life. The Member's role as a community leader and spokesperson on these occasions should not be underestimated; it is a great honor for him or her to deliver remarks at these community rites, and a congressional speechwriter should devote talent and originality to them.

Obviously, the three purpose categories cited here are not necessarily mutually exclusive; in order to convince an audience, a speaker often needs to combine persuasion with information. Similarly, while some types of remarks are intended purely for entertainment, such as a celebrity roast, the careful speechwriter will always seek to entertain audiences in order to capture and retain their attention.

How long should a Member speak? The answer to this fundamental question of speechwriting, like so many others, depends on a wide range of factors. Audience analysis and occasion have been previously noted, but the habits and attitudes of the speaker must also be taken into consideration.

The natural inclinations of the Member must be examined. Is the Member a person of few words, or is he or she a good talker? Does the Member stick to the text, or lay it aside to share anecdotes, personal reminiscences, or even humor, with the audience? These and other related questions can be answered only through experience on the part of the congressional speechwriter. Learning the Member's style and preferences will result in a better product that communicates more effectively.

Time of day should be considered by the writer. In the morning, people are relatively fresh, and are generally better prepared physically to listen attentively. By late afternoon, or after a luncheon, however, the audience may need to be stimulated, either by coffee or by lively remarks. Finally, lengthy after-dinner remarks should almost never be inflicted, especially on a paying audience. The potential auditors are full, tired, and ready to go home. It's best to give them their wish as quickly as possible.

Finally comes the classic question: how many words should the speechwriter prepare? Once again, the factors of audience, occasion, Member preference, and time of day should be considered. The question of length of time, however, must be dealt with at some point. A number of classic speech authorities suggest that in most cases 20 minutes should be the upward limit. Conventional wisdom often holds that most listeners tune out, perceptibly or not, after that period. 13 Ritual or pro forma speeches, such as occasional remarks at schools, churches, or public functions where the Member is a guest, but not the main attraction, benefit from brevity, perhaps being limited to five to 10 minutes. Although substantive public policy speeches may merit greater length, in modern America, only presidential inaugural and State of the Union messages seem to exceed the 20-minute limit regularly, with the latter often weighing in at over an hour.

The question of pace is also important; is the Member a fast talker? Different speakers exhibit considerable variety in pace, ranging from 115 to 175 words a minute. Once again, the speechwriter will factor these personal differences into his work. As a benchmark, however, an often-cited rule-of-thumb is that the average 20-minute speech contains about 2,600 words, or, about 130 per minute. Most word processing programs will provide a total document word count as part of their spell check feature. 14

Having a fixed time stimulates careful preparation. Both a time limit and notes or text help guard against logorrhea , or excessive verbiage. Time limits also encourage speakers not to be overly comprehensive, saying everything there is to be said on the speech topic. This is a temptation difficult to resist, but a speech is, by nature, a precis or digest. Excessive complexity or verbiage are capable of transforming an effective speech into something ponderous and exhausting. Jefferson's sharp judgment of 1824 applies today with equal force: "Amplification is the vice of modern oratory.... Speeches measured by the hour die with the hour."

Theme, audience, time, place, occasion and purpose—once these are settled, the speechwriter's next concern is to gather ideas, facts, examples, illustrations, quotations, and humor, in short, whatever is needed to give substance, character, and interest to the speech. There is no shortcut for researching a speech, although a number of resources can speed the process.

Congressional speechwriters often consult the Congressional Research Service first when preparing a draft statement or an address for a Member. CRS offers a range of speechwriting resources for the use of congressional staff, many of which are available from the CRS Home Page, at http://www.crs.gov .

To find this report and other speechwriting resources, go to the CRS Home Page and click on the tab on the right, "Reference Desk" http://www.crs.gov/ reference/ general/ reference.shtml . On the left side of the page you will find a link to "Speechwriting & Holidays/Commemorative Events" http://www.crs.gov/ reference/ general/ speechwriting.shtml . This page provides links to commemorative speech materials, many of them focusing on major holidays, such as the Fourth of July and Labor Day, and month-long celebrations like Black History Month and Native American Heritage Month. Information is provided on the history of and related facts about the holiday or celebration. The speechwriting page also accesses sources providing practical tips for writing a speech, quotations, the full text of selected speeches and United States historical documents and writing guides.

Other sources of information on public policy, reference resources, appropriations information, legal resources and many external links conveniently organized by topic are also available on the CRS Home Page. From the "Reference Desk," you can access "Basic Resources for Daily Work in Congressional Offices": government directories, encyclopedias, statistical sources, dictionaries, grammar guides, maps, and other online reference links. There is also a "Legislative Reference Source" page with links to facts about Congress including information on membership, committees, rules and schedules.

Providing timely, accurate, and unbiased information and analysis on current policy questions is the most important function of the Congressional Research Service. The congressional speechwriter can access the CRS Home Page to garner analysis on current policy issues. The page links to the Current Legislative Issues, such as the Economy, Homeland Security, Internet/Telecom, and Iraq. These are further divided into subcategories, with links to the full text of CRS reports, containing comprehensive and multi-disciplinary analysis and information. They are available exclusively to congressional staff from the CRS Home Page and provide a ready resource to the congressional speechwriter.

In addition to the Current Legislative Issues on the CRS Home page, on the left side of the page is a link to "Featured Products." The first Featured Product link is entitled "Floor Agenda: CRS Products." For a speechwriter who wishes to write about recent bills scheduled for floor action, this is an invaluable resource. This link accesses CRS reports about legislation that is scheduled for floor action that week. The link to the "Appropriations Status Table" accesses the latest status of and links to appropriation bills, as well as committee and CRS reports.

Congressional staff who wish to discuss any policy-related issue with the appropriate CRS analyst can call the Inquiry Section at [phone number scrubbed], to place a request or to ask for a briefing by an analyst. Alternatively, to find out how to contact a CRS expert from the Home Page, click on the "Contact Expert" tab. A request for analysis or research assistance may also be faxed to the Inquiry Section at [phone number scrubbed] or may be placed from the CRS Home Page by clicking on the "Place a Request" tab.

The CRS Hotline at [phone number scrubbed] is available for immediate ready reference requests, such as questions about presidential quotes on the virtues of the Constitution or perhaps variations in the Consumer Price Index for the past five years. In addition, the LaFollette Congressional Reading Room (LM-204, James Madison Memorial Building, the Library of Congress), Rayburn Research Center (B-335, Rayburn House of Representatives Office Building), and Senate Research Center (SR-B07, Russell Senate Office Building) provide a full range of in-person assistance, including many standard reference sources and CRS products. They are staffed full-time by information professionals available to assist you.

Legislative information is also available from commercial publications such as CQ Weekly , the annual Congressional Quarterly Almanac , and the same publisher's eight-volume history of major legislation and national issues since 1945, Congress and the Nation. A journal of similar content but with greater emphasis on executive branch activities is National Journal , which appears weekly.

There are sites on the Web that may be helpful to the speechwriter.

American Rhetoric http://www.americanrhetoric.com/ index.htm This is an Index to an expanding database of over 5000 full text, audio and video versions of public speeches, debates and interviews. This site has a useful set of communication links and is updated every two weeks.

Speechwriter.com http://wwwthespeechwriter.com This website contains many links to research sites, statistics, encyclopedias, business links, current events, anecdotes, quotes, speeches, toasts and biographies.

The Advanced Public Speaking Institute http://wwwpublic-speaking.org/ public-speaking-articles.htm This website has 43 articles on the use of humor in a speech.

Additional helpful resources may include books on speechwriting. Writing Great Speeches: Professional Techniques You Can Use ( Essence of Public Speaking Series ), by Alan M. Pearlman, has endorsements from two public speaking groups, the National Speakers Association and Toastmasters International. You may also wish to consult a work by Richard Dowis, The Lost Art of the Great Speech: How to Write One—How to Deliver It . The author, a former journalist and public relations executive, discusses the content, the memorability, rule of three, and other speechwriting methods. Finally, Choosing Powerful Words: Eloquence that Works ( Essence of Public Speaking Series ), was written by Ronald H. Carpenter, a professor of English and communications. These books may be requested from the Loan Division of the Library of Congress, telephone 707-5441.

There are other basic materials with which every speechwriter should be familiar. These include a good standard dictionary (spell check is not foolproof, and has a rather limited vocabulary). The preferable dictionary is prescriptive as well as descriptive, that is, it prescribes or recommends usage in addition to providing descriptions or definitions. A thesaurus, such as Roget ' s , published in numerous editions since 1852, or J.I. Rodale's Synonym Finder , various editions since 1961, is useful in finding the right word and generally superior to the thesaurus feature offered with most word processing programs. For quotations, consult the standard Bartlett ' s Familiar Quotations in any one of its many editions, or Respectfully Quoted , a quotation dictionary compiled by the Congressional Research Service. Annual almanacs, such as the Information Please Almanac and the World Almanac , are often essential for quick reference.

Literary and religious sources include the works of Shakespeare in any readable edition and the English Bible, especially the King James or Authorized Version. Aside from its obvious spiritual aspects, the King James Bible is important for both its literary quality and its tremendous influence on spoken and written English.

Access to some standard encyclopedia, such as Americana , World Book or Britannica, is also helpful for fact checking and general information. Chase ' s Calendar of Events is a useful annual guide to special observances throughout the nation. A wealth of facts, statistics, and data useful in speech preparation can be found in the annual U.S. Government publication Statistical Abstract of the United States , published annually. For sample speeches on many topics of contemporary interest, the speechwriter may wish to consult Vital Speeches of the Day , published twice monthly, available through EBSCO Host and other Internet sources. It provides examples of speeches delivered by recognized public figures on topical questions and major issues and events of the day, and is annually indexed by author and topic. All these sources are available in the La Follette Congressional Reading Room, and most are also available in House and Senate office building reference centers.

Daily newspapers are a familiar, if neglected, resource for speeches; a dedicated speechwriter will read or skim several each day, noting and saving background items that may prove to be useful later. Both national and hometown papers should be included. Other useful sources include weekly news magazines and more specialized journals that cover public policy issues. Here, again, the advent of the Internet provides new sources of information valuable to the congressional speechwriter: home district newspaper web sites may be regularly scanned for local news on issues and events of interest to the Member. These are usually posted online the day they are published, and almost always well in advance of postal delivery of the printed product.

Certain general principles may be useful to guide the congressional speechwriter in choice of content and style:

  • Quotations and humorous anecdotes or remarks are like spices, and should be used with discrimination, mindful of good taste and effectiveness. Speeches overloaded with quotations and anecdotes can sink from their own weight.
  • Pseudo-quotations should be avoided. Never use a quotation that cannot be verified in an authoritative source.
  • Unless a writer is gifted with lightness of touch, self-deprecating or gentle humor is usually more effective than satire or ridicule.
  • Jokes aimed at people's personal lives or at religious and ethnic groups are invariably offensive, regardless of the speaker's motives. Avoid them.
  • Statistics should be used with care and moderation. Like the points in an outline, they are better alluded to in context than cited in tedious detail. A speech filled with statistics becomes a statistical abstract, not a speech.
  • When selecting material, the responsible speechwriter will take great care to quote accurately and give full credit for whatever is borrowed outright. Plagiarism is often illegal and always unethical . On the other hand, it is entirely proper to adapt existing materials to one's own purpose in preparing a new speech for any occasion. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in response to accusations that he had plagiarized parts of the Declaration of Independence from other works, "I did not consider it as any part of my charge to invent new ideas altogether and to offer no sentiment which had ever been expressed before." Straining after originality, which has been defined by an anonymous wit as "imitation not yet detected," can ruin the best of speeches.
  • Finally, the seasoned speechwriter soon learns to recycle the best parts of previous efforts, to save time and effort, and also to preserve a particularly fine turn of phrase.

The task of actually writing the speech, once the preliminaries are completed, will be greatly facilitated in most cases by the use of an outline. The novice speechwriter may be tempted to dispense with this device, on the grounds that it adds a time consuming extra step to a process that is often constrained by tight deadlines. On the other hand, it forces the writer to plan and organize his thoughts, to determine in advance what he intends to say, and to begin at the beginning.

A speech outline generally is not nearly as detailed as an outline for an academic work, such as a journal article, or even a research paper. The outline serves as a skeleton, a framework to carry the flesh and blood of the fully developed speech. At the same time, this skeleton should eventually be invisible, clothed in delivery with ideas and emotions, and as simple as possible; beware of explicitly enumerating too many points or topics. Outlines may be written in topics, or key sentences, or in complete thoughts, so long as there is an orderly sequence.

The frugal writer will retain speech outlines, since they can easily be reworked for future efforts. In whole or in parts, these can be placed in folders in a word processing program, or written out into a looseleaf notebook binder or even on index cards. From any of these media, the outlines can be quickly cut, rearranged, or added to as future occasions may require. President Ronald Reagan, for example, was legendary for his expert use and reuse of note cards that included facts and themes he sought to emphasize in various speeches.

Throughout the speech, the writer ought to be constantly asking: "What is it I am trying to say?" and, after it is written: "Have I, in fact, said it clearly, succinctly, and well?" Every speech seeks in some way to move an audience, to win support, to motivate, to convince, perhaps to inspire, or simply to entertain. Adhere to the central theme or idea while addressing it in different ways, much in the manner that good sentences are constructed for a paragraph.

The arrangement of ideas and themes should follow a logical progression. Each fact establishes a certain point, which leads to the speaker's next point, and so forth, ultimately climaxing with the thematic conclusion. While it is more dramatic to gain an audience's attention by opening a speech with a grand conclusion, be sure that the initial dramatic assertion is followed up by the essential process of weaving the argument the Member seeks to make.

Do not try to say too much, particularly when the speech is intended as the vehicle for a major announcement or initiative. The most memorable presidential inaugural addresses have been those that set a single theme, or coherent group of related themes. 15 Stick to no more than three major points, rather than attempting to say a little something about everything. Anything more risks running afoul of Churchill's famous comment concerning a bland dessert: "This pudding has no theme."

Nearly every speech will have a basic three-part structure of introduction, body, and conclusion. An arresting introduction should lead into an emphatic statement of the main theme or themes. The argument that follows seeks to elaborate and develop the theme convincingly and effectively—that is, without too much detail. The central theme is restated in the closing peroration. One helpful approach for overcoming the feeling of word fright (what can I say and how?) is to write the speech in reverse: begin with the conclusion, which should summarize the central message, while abridging and restating whatever goes before. If the introduction sets the tone and establishes initial appeal or rapport, the closing communicates the final effect and is more likely to be remembered. Working backward is one way of imparting unity, coherence, and emphasis to the speech as a whole.

There are many techniques available for the actual writing of a speech. Almost all speeches delivered by, or on behalf of, Members of Congress, even those for ceremonial or pro forma occasions, will have a certain political character because of the Member's representative function, and also because of the way in which his or her office is perceived. In the rhetorical context, political means persuasive, including the expression of personal interest and concern, assuring and reassuring, conveying the Member's identity with each audience, and so creating a community of interest and trust. Three kinds of persuasive techniques are usually distinguished:

  • the appeal to reasonableness: "Surely Democrats and Republicans alike can agree that there is no excuse today for hunger in the world's richest nation...."
  • the appeal to emotion: "Can we, as a nation, close our eyes to the spectacle of millions of children going to bed hungry every night...?"
  • the ethical appeal (that is, to the character of the audience): "our historic traditions of decency and generosity demand that we face squarely the question of hunger in America...."

All three approaches may be used in any given speech.

One popular option for developing a speech is the "attention-problem-solution" method, especially for longer speeches of a non-partisan character. Useful for many different occasions, this method begins by stimulating the interest of the audience, usually with attention-grabbing examples of a problem that needs to be recognized and confronted. The speaker then moves to define the "problem" situation, and concludes with the proposed "best" solution, presented so as to win listener support.

Another option, the "this-or-nothing" method, advocates a policy mainly by presenting and refuting proposed alternatives as inadequate or worse. It lends itself well to partisan occasions or to stirring those already convinced. In every case the speaker seeks to reinforce and strengthen his principal ideas as they are unfolded in the speech. Prior audience analysis and subject preparation will often help the speech "write itself."

No speaker should ever apologize for his or her presence, or for the content of the speech. If it truly deserves apologies, it is better left unsaid. Further, a prudent speaker, rightly wary of the impulse to speak "off-the-cuff," will make certain that "extemporaneous" or "impromptu" remarks are not unprepared. For most speakers it is also better not to memorize a speech (unless one has a gift for it), since memory is fallible and elusive at best.

The congressional speechwriter should not shrink from commonly accepted contemporary usage: the all-day speeches and obscure classical allusions of Daniel Webster and Henry Clay make wonderful reading, but they are history. The development of public address systems, radio, and, finally, the "cool" medium of television, and the perhaps even more intimate medium of the webcast have combined with other social changes to turn down the volume, both in decibels and emotions, of public speaking in the United States, for better or worse eliminating its more histrionic qualities.

The accepted style of contemporary oratory is generally low key, casual without being offensively familiar, and delivered directly to the audience in a conversational tone and volume. It puts the audience at ease and helps promote psychological bonding between listeners and speaker. The speaker is perceived as a neighbor or friend, as well as an elected official. This is, of course, what every Senator and Representative strives to be. Perhaps the first, and certainly one of the most effective, practitioners of this art was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in his radio "fireside chats." His calm, reassuring voice and homey language revolutionized the bond of communication between the American people and their Presidents. It could be said that FDR spoke "with," rather than "to," the people, a standard to which Members can honestly aspire today. Once again, certain exceptions are allowed, but these are generally reserved largely to the President, or for only the most formal occasions.

Use natural words and phrases in a speech; let the sentences flow conversationally. It is helpful for some writers, time permitting, to prepare a first draft in longhand, shaping the sentences slowly, speaking aloud the phrases they intend to use.

The first person is perfectly acceptable in modern public discourse, and when combined with other personal pronouns—remember to avoid "I" strain—it can help connect listener to speaker and create a sense of community within the audience. While the first person singular is sometimes deprecated, it is its excessive use that should be avoided. Conversely, speakers should avoid referring to themselves in the first person plural (we) or the third person singular (he or she). The former has been reserved to monarchs, and is considered archaic in modern speech. The latter too often conveys a sense of excessive self importance to listeners. For instance, a Member should think twice before referring to himself or herself in the third person singular: "Dave (or Mary) Smith thinks the problem of hunger is the greatest challenge facing America today."

Writers should generally use simple, declarative sentences, preferably in active voice, when making important statements of fact, assertion, or opinion. Use of the passive voice should not be dismissed out of hand, however; it is sometimes the more desirable form, and can lend grace and variety to the speaker's flow of words that stimulates the listener. It is excessive use that should be avoided. Similarly, exclusive use of the active voice can impart a choppy, juvenile cadence to even a content-rich speech.

Just as there are points to emphasize in every speech, serving as clear transitions or aural signposts for paragraphs ("secondly," "nevertheless," "finally," "accordingly," "as a result," "in spite of," "as I have said," etc.), so there are things to avoid, and they are more numerous. While they are discussed in full in many reference works, they include:

  • jargon and trendy neologisms: "impact" used as a verb, "stakeholders," "incentivize," "outside the box," et al .;
  • redundancy resulting from excess verbiage, not deliberate restatement;
  • mannerisms that may distract the listener, and trite phrases or cliches, with the exception previously mentioned, monotony of style or pace, and, in general, language inappropriate to the audience and occasion.

Punctuation is crucial to an effective speech; it helps to clarify the delivery of the spoken word. Good punctuation in English, apart from a few basic elements, is less a matter of inflexible rules than of purpose and style, particularly where speeches are concerned. Historically there have been two broad traditions of punctuation: syntactical—that is, guided by syntax or grammatical construction; and elocutionary—deriving from the rhythm and pace of actual speech. One writer has further distinguished three methods of punctuating:

  • by structure or logic to indicate the sense of what is being said;
  • by the rhythm of word order and intended meaning—a subtle use best avoided by novice speech writers;
  • and by respiration—that is, by the physical ease of natural speech, which assumes that what is read is really spoken. 16

This last method, essentially the same as the elocutionary style, is the most widely used and certainly the most appropriate for speeches. In short, punctuate according to the ear and not the eye. This also means punctuating for the lungs: give the Member time to breathe! A long and convoluted sentence (something to be avoided in general) can leave the Member literally gasping for breath as he or she concludes it. A useful practice for congressional speechwriters is to declaim aloud (speak aloud, not in a conversational tone, but as if one were speaking to an audience) any lengthy sentence intended for the Member. If the writer finds it taxing on the lungs, then so will the Member; in such cases, it is advisable either to fashion shorter sentences, or to repunctuate the original, using such obvious "time out" devices as the colon and semi-colon, both of which are described in the next paragraph.

Commas and dashes are useful to the speaker and listeners alike as guideposts to what lies ahead in a speech. They also provide pauses where the speaker can let the import of the previous sentence sink in, or simply catch his or her breath. Opinion is divided on colons and semicolons; some consider them as serving the same functions as commas and dashes, while others suggest that they are more emphatic, demanding a full stop in the flow of remarks, rather than a short pause. They are also sometimes criticized as leading to long compound sentences that are difficult for audiences to process, and that are better replaced by shorter declarative ones. In the final analysis, the Member's personal preferences and style should be the congressional speechwriter's guide.

Correct grammar and syntax in the context of speechwriting and delivery mean using a level of English usage that is appropriate to the occasion. While it is highly desirable, the formal grammar of the written language is not an end in itself; it exists to further the clarity of expression. Far more important than the grammarian's rules is the communication of personality by which a speech, as opposed to a lecture, is clothed with emotion and enthusiasm, so that the speaker is perceived to be sincere and trustworthy, neither "talking over people's heads" nor "talking down" to them. While this may belong more to the presentation or delivery, the writer should strive for it in speech preparation as well.

Effective delivery can transform a weak speech and make it sound very good. Poor delivery can ruin the best-prepared speeches, and sometimes does. Although delivery is not the concern of the speechwriter as such, it must be always in mind as a speech is actually written. The speaker's pace, his or her style, mannerisms, tendencies (such as departing from a text), peculiarities, or special difficulties (words to avoid)—these are elements with which the writer should be well acquainted before preparing any speech. Knowing how a Member speaks is essential in preparing a draft that is both useful and realistic.

Ideally, a speech draft ought to be reviewed three times—by the writer, by the prospective speaker, and by a disinterested third party. Of these three, priority should ordinarily be given to the speaker. The revised product is likely to be more effective. With speeches, as with food, however, too many cooks are undesirable. Moreover, time seldom permits this much critical evaluation and rewriting. It may even be easier to provide for some appraisal of the speech's impact and audience reaction after delivery. For example, it is said that Senator Robert F. Kennedy's speech writers would follow his delivery of a speech word by word, noting those phrases or ideas that were well received, or others that created problems.

An effective political speech is defined not by rules of rhetoric, but by the character of response it evokes. The speaker, then, is always concerned to measure that response and to elicit "positive feedback." This means a network of contacts that can report on the opinions and reactions of the audience, and evaluate the interest generated and evident a week or more after the event. It requires an awareness of media coverage and subsequent treatment from constituents, the sponsoring organization, and others. In short, it means adding a political relevance to the familiar phrase, "keeping in touch."

Although there are substantial distinctions between legislative and non-legislative speeches, the basic principles of preparation and presentation are identical for both. Good writing is nurtured by wide reading, which in turn fosters a sense of style, enriched vocabulary, accuracy in grammar, and a feeling for English syntax. The best speechwriters will, through regular daily reading, bring an ever more abundant background to their work. Everything is grist for the speechwriter's mill. Moreover, nothing is surer in speechwriting than that "practice makes perfect." The more one writes, the easier the task becomes, and the smoother and more conversational the flow of the Member's remarks.

As with so many aspects of speechwriting and delivery, the physical form of a speech is a matter of personal preference. Some speakers prefer to work from a completely polished text, one that may include carefully tailored "spontaneous" anecdotes and jokes at appropriate places, and may even incorporate hints on speech delivery or effective body language in the text. Others prefer to speak from notes derived from such a text, proceed from a series of "talking points," or simply extemporize. Whichever method is used, preparatory notes or an outline are recommended, with the cautionary warning that dependence on a manuscript can deaden the delivery, just as the excessive use of notes or cards can stimulate verbosity.

President-elect Lincoln's farewell speech at Springfield, Illinois on February 11, 1861 is arguably the shortest great speech ever delivered from the back of a train. Its railway car setting recalls to mind the now-vanished connection between political events and the railroad, including the whistle-stop campaigns of most presidential candidates from William Jennings Bryan to Dwight Eisenhower. What Jacques Barzun called Lincoln's "workaday style [would become] the American style par excellence," undermining the monopoly exercised by purveyors of "literary plush." 17 The Springfield speech illustrates with extraordinary brevity—it is only a 15 line paragraph—the Lincolnian qualities of precision, vernacular ease, rhythmic virtuosity, and elegance.

The sense of right order and emphasis throughout culminates in the closing sentence—"one of the greatest cadences in English speech." 18 The effect is achieved by the simple yet artful devices of parallelism, the balancing of similar and antithetical words phrases, and ideas, evoking rich Biblical overtones among his hearers. Lincoln's style is rooted in the "speaking intonations" and "humanly simple vernacular" of everyday speech, heightened by form and rhythm, the distinctively American tradition seen at its best in such writers as Emerson and Frost. 19 Although some hold that today there is no place for rhetorical eloquence, arguing that "bluntness and clarity" and simplistic thoughts are the norm, 20 others assert that the craft of speechmaking, the impact of skilled political rhetoric is as significant as ever in our history. 21 Lincoln's mastery of that craft remains a formidable example.

My Friends: No one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when or whether ever I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance, I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell. 22

The rise and, indeed, the virtual triumph in American political speaking of "the popular conversational idiom," with its emphasis on simplicity, brevity, and terseness, has tended to encourage "simplistic language together with slogans or catch words ...," influenced perhaps by the techniques of mass media advertising and particularly television. 23 "Repetition and retention of a few simple ideas are stressed more than a complex concept." 24 In consequence, some have noted a growing trend toward what some have characterized as a numbing mediocrity: "Since the 1920s more political speakers have addressed larger audiences on a wider range of topics than at any time in history. Yet so marked is the decline in the quality of style that the majority of speeches are pedestrian, prosaic, and impotent." 25 This last may be an excessively pessimistic evaluation of the state of contemporary political speech. Few, moreover, would advocate a return to the florid style of public speaking that prevailed as recently as the 1920s.

The remedy, in part, may be the cultivation of style. "Time should be devoted," writes L. Patrick Devlin, "to using impressive language," which he defines as "the most vivid, clear, concise, and meaningful style." 26 It will be most effective if it bears the personal stamp of the speaker. "The process of persuasion is ... more a matter of communicating values than logical information." 27 In essence, good speechwriting requires that the speaker assume a role: to some extent, he or she must be able to impart confidence and to sense the character of an audience. We need not agree with Talleyrand's cynical observation that "speech was given to man to disguise his thoughts" to recognize that effective persuasion calls for the ability to win the hearts and minds of listeners. To seem natural is not easy; as George Fluharty and Harold Ross wrote in Public Speaking :

The speaker is estimating his audience and his audience is estimating him. His ethics, his integrity, understanding, and humanity are strong forces for good and also strong components of his "ethos" or personal effect upon not only his present but also his future audiences. The speaker should therefore make sure that the actual situation permits him to use a given persuasive device. 28

Once again, the words of Abraham Lincoln, himself no mean practitioner of the public speaker's art, may serve to summarize the speechwriter's ultimate goal:

When the conduct of men is designed to be influenced, persuasion, kind, unassuming persuasion, should ever be adopted. It is an old and true maxim that "a drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall." So with men. If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what he will, is the great high-road to his reason, and which, when once gained, you will find but little trouble convincing his judgment of the justice of your cause, if indeed that cause really is a good one. 29


Barron Trump Is Picked to Be Delegate at the Republican Convention

In his most political role to date, Donald J. Trump’s youngest son will serve as a delegate from Florida just a few months after graduating from high school.

  • Share full article

Barron Trump wears a dark suit with a bright blue tie, walking next to Jared Kushner, who is also wearing a dark suit, but whose tie has red stripes.

By Michael Gold

  • May 9, 2024

After years in which his privacy has been fiercely guarded and he has been kept out of the political arena, former President Donald J. Trump’s youngest son, Barron, was chosen to be one of Florida’s delegates to the Republican National Convention.

Barron, who turned 18 earlier this year and will graduate high school this month, will be one of 41 at-large delegates at the party’s national meeting in July, when the G.O.P. is expected to officially nominate his father as the Republican presidential candidate. His selection was reported earlier by NBC News .

The youngest Trump will be joined in the delegation by his two more politically active brothers, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., both of whom have appeared on the campaign trail or done interviews to support their father’s candidacy.

Mr. Trump’s younger daughter, Tiffany, will also be a Florida delegate. Ivanka Trump, his eldest child, was not on the list.

Though politicians’ children often hit the trail to stump alongside their parents, Barron Trump has largely been absent from his father’s campaign this year. It remains to be seen whether he will give a speech at the Republican convention, as his siblings did in 2016 and 2020.

For the past several years, Barron has been attending a private high school in Florida. His graduation, on May 17, became a point of contention in Mr. Trump’s hush-money trial in Manhattan because it overlaps with the court schedule.

The judge in the case initially delayed a decision on whether court would be in session that day, prompting complaints from Mr. Trump, but he eventually agreed to allow the day off from court .

The Florida party’s list of delegates further demonstrates the extent to which the Trump family and Mr. Trump’s supporters have moved to the center of Republican politics. His daughter-in-law, Lara, who is married to Eric Trump, was made co-chair of the Republican National Committee earlier this year.

The Florida delegation list also includes Kimberly Guilfoyle, the fiancée of Donald Trump Jr., and Michael Boulos, Tiffany Trump’s husband . Other longtime Trump allies were also chosen, including Isaac Perlmutter, the former Marvel Entertainment chief executive who is a major donor, and the real-estate investor Steve Witkoff, a longtime friend of Mr. Trump.

Michael C. Bender and Patricia Mazzei contributed reporting.

Michael Gold is a political correspondent for The Times covering the campaigns of Donald J. Trump and other candidates in the 2024 presidential elections. More about Michael Gold

Our Coverage of the 2024 Election

Presidential Race

At a rally in Wildwood, N.J., former President Donald Trump declared that his campaign would “officially play” in a state he has lost twice by double digits .

Paul Manafort, who was the chairman of Trump’s 2016 campaign and also served time in prison, abruptly stepped aside from an unpaid role  advising Republican officials on the nominating convention.

Barron Trump, the former president’s youngest son, will not serve as one of Florida’s delegates  to the Republican National Convention, the office of Melania Trump announced.

Dodging the Question:  Leading Republicans, including several of Trump’s potential running mates, have refused to say flatly that they will accept the outcome of the election .

West Virginia Senate Race:  Gov. Jim Justice’s companies have long had a reputation for not paying their debts. But that may be catching up to them  as Justice campaigns for a seat in the Senate.

Ohio Senate Race:  Bernie Moreno, the Republican challenging Senator Sherrod Brown, tells a riches-to-rags-to-riches tale. But the reality isn’t so tidy .

Maryland Senate Race:  The Democratic Senate primary between Angela Alsobrooks, the Prince George’s County executive, and Representative David Trone has grown tighter  as they vie to take on Larry Hogan, the popular former two-term Republican governor.


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    Speechwriters often collaborate closely with candidates to help them build political communication skills. These political communication skills include articulating their vision, values and policy positions. Ethical speech writing requires you to lay aside your ideas and write from the candidate's point of view.

  3. PDF Speechwriting for Politicians and Advocates

    Speech Structure: Tie the Personal to the Global. Explain why the speaker is the right person to give this speech. The principal should tie their story (or the anecdote they started with) into a universal or near-universal argument. This is what I refer to as the first part of finding the speaker's "voice".

  4. PDF Online Speech and the First Amendment: Ten Principles from the Supreme

    4. Political speech and advocacy are at the core of First Amendment protection. The First Amendment protects the right of any person to engage in political speech and advocacy, regardless of whether it concerns a particular issue, public official, or candidate for office. In 1966, the Supreme Court struck down

  5. How To Write A Presidential Speech

    Goals of the Speech. Presidential speeches have become increasingly important over time as a means to connect with and appeal to the people in order to articulate and drive forward presidential goals, deliver or reflect on tragic or positive news, and more. As Teten put it in his study, "speeches are the core of the modern presidency" (334).

  6. PDF Speechwriting in Perspective: A Brief Guide to Effective and Persuasive

    Writing effective speeches requires a constant awareness of the distinction between the written and the spoken word: the speechwriter must learn to "write aloud." While the best speeches read as well as they sound, the novice speechwriter should give priority to the ear and not the eye. His or her speech must be written to be heard, not read.

  7. Lend me your ears! The art of political speechwriting

    Barack Obama's first director of speechwriting, Jon Favreau, has gone on to become a media star with his own podcast, Pod Save America. Clare Foges was in No 10 when Obama's entourage ...

  8. Inside The Art Of Political Speech Writing : NPR

    Transcript. Barack Obama has the chance to set a new standard for speech making when he accepts the Democratic nomination tonight. But just what goes into crafting a memorable political speech ...

  9. How do you write a great political speech?

    David Cameron's former chief speechwriter, Ameet Gill, recalls several of the ex- PM's greatest hits, including the 2007 "no notes" party conference speech which helped avert a snap general election. Ed Miliband's former speechwriter, stand-up comedian Ayesha Hazarika, explains the importance of humor in political discourse. And U.S ...

  10. How To Write A Political Speech

    Writing a compelling political speech that resonates with your audience is vital for any politician. Two key factors are crucial to achieving this: defining your objectives and knowing your target audience. Defining the objectives: Your speech should have a clear purpose, whether it is to persuade, inspire, or educate your listeners.

  11. Rhetoric, discourse and the hermeneutics of public speech

    James Martin is Professor of Political Theory at Goldsmiths, University of London. His research includes studies on political rhetoric and Continental political theory. His most recent book is Psychopolitics of Speech: Uncivil Discourse and the Excess of Desire. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag, 2019.

  12. Introduction to the special issue: Rhetorical approaches to

    This observation is as true now as it was in antiquity. In public debates and announcements, electoral campaigns, rallies and official ceremonies, policies, and their justifications, political life as such is inseparable from practices and institutions of human speech - a term that encompasses not merely words and texts but performances, gestures, and emotions that give concrete expression ...

  13. What makes a great political speech?

    The event will be held at Churchill College, Cambridge on October 20th. For Collins, great political speeches need three key ingredients: a serious argument which leaves the audience thinking something new or resolved to act; great delivery that stirs the emotions as well as appealing to reason; and a sense of occasion.

  14. Politics and the English Language

    In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the ...

  15. Politics and the English Language

    Political speech and writing are generally in defence of the indefensible and so lead to a euphemistic inflated style. Orwell criticises bad writing habits which spread by imitation. He argues that writers must think more clearly because thinking clearly "is a necessary first step toward political regeneration".

  16. George Orwell's Six Rules for Writing Clear and Tight Prose

    These are the rules Orwell sug­gests: (i) Nev­er use a metaphor, sim­i­le, or oth­er fig­ure of speech which you are used to see­ing in print. (ii) Nev­er use a long word where a short one will do. (iii) If it is pos­si­ble to cut a word out, always cut it out. (iv) Nev­er use the pas­sive where you can use the active.

  17. How to Use the Rule of Three in Your Speeches

    by Andrew Dlugan. Published: May 27th, 2009. The rule of three is powerful speechwriting technique that you should learn, practice, and master. Using the Rule of Three allows you to express concepts more completely, emphasize your points, and increase the memorability of your message. That's the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

  18. Orwell's 6 Rules

    Orwell's 6 Rules. From "Politics and the English Language". Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. Never use the passive where you can use the active. Never use a foreign phrase ...

  19. George Orwell's Six Rules for Writing: A Reassessment

    Ultimately, Orwell's efforts were underpinned by political concerns, in an era where propaganda had become the arme de choix of a range of oppressive political movements. "Politics and the English Language" has become best known for its suggested six rules of writing, which might be employed in order to avoid poor writing.

  20. What to Do About Political Speech in the Workplace

    Employers can handle political speech in the workplace depending on whether the employer is a public or private one, and employers should consider writing ... rules regarding solicitation and ...

  21. The Power of the Rule of Three in Speech Writing

    Pattern recognition is something we are amazing at - we've been conditioned to do so, and the reason the rule of three works for well is because three is the smallest number required to create a pattern. It helps the message stick. It helps the message be remembered long after the speech.

  22. George Orwell's Six Rules for Writing

    To guide writers into writing clearly and truthfully, Orwell proposed the following six rules: Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

  23. Welcome to the Purdue Online Writing Lab

    The Online Writing Lab at Purdue University houses writing resources and instructional material, and we provide these as a free service of the Writing Lab at Purdue. Students, members of the community, and users worldwide will find information to assist with many writing projects. Teachers and trainers may use this material for in-class and out ...

  24. President Biden's Political Science Theater 3000 (a running commentary

    President Biden's Political Science Theater 3000 (a running commentary on free speech and the "rule of law") ... opinions and thoughts by writing to me at ... President Biden's Political Science Theater 3000 (a running commentary on free speech and the "rule of law") www.michaelmoore.com. Copy link. Facebook. Email. Note. Other. 45 ...

  25. Pa. House passes social media rules for kids amid free speech concerns

    A bill creating new rules for children's social media use passed the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on Wednesday after an extensive re-write that assuaged some but not all of the issues ...

  26. CFTC goes all in on fight over political betting

    CFTC commissioners will vote later this morning on a rule proposal that would ban so-called event contracts that allow traders to wager on elections, two people familiar with the drafted plan told ...

  27. Speechwriting in Perspective: A Brief Guide to Effective and Persuasive

    Writing Great Speeches: Professional Techniques You Can Use ( Essence of Public Speaking Series), by Alan M. Pearlman, ... An effective political speech is defined not by rules of rhetoric, but by the character of response it evokes. The speaker, then, is always concerned to measure that response and to elicit "positive feedback." ...

  28. The Protesters and the President

    As president, I will always defend free speech. And I will always be just as strong and standing up for the rule of law. That's my responsibility to you, the American people, and my obligation ...

  29. Barron Trump Is Picked to Be Delegate at the Republican Convention

    It remains to be seen whether he will give a speech at the Republican convention, as his siblings did in 2016 and 2020. For the past several years, Barron has been attending a private high school ...

  30. The Adults Are Still in Charge at the University of Florida

    Higher education isn't daycare. Here are the rules we follow on free speech and public protests.