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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What makes a speech persuasive and memorable – and how do you write one? How can storytelling help political, corporate, nonprofit, and community leaders achieve their goals? What is the role of the speech in our politics, policymaking, and international relations? This course will explore the techniques speechwriters and speakers use, from research to rhetoric, to shape messages that move people and change the world.

Each course in the DPI communications series assumes a fluency with the English language. Attendance at first class mandatory.


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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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Political Writing: The Power of Words in Politics

Jun 16, 2020

Political Writing

Words are powerful. They can inspire, motivate, and unite people. Political writing can be a tool for rallying support for a cause or rallying opposition against a policy. And it can be used to build relationships with other countries or strengthen alliances with allies. Whatever your political goal may be, strong writing skills are essential to achieving it. So if you’re interested in entering the world of politics, learn how to write well. It will make all the difference.

Politics is all about words. The right words can inspire people to change the world, ruining a career. In this blog post, we’ll look at some of the most powerful political speeches throughout history and explore the power of words in politics. Stay tuned – it’s going to be a fascinating ride!

What is Political Writing?

Political writing is writing that is related to politics. This includes pieces written by or on political groups, candidates, parties, and government agencies.

Political writing is the art of writing in support of a political cause.

Political writing is a form of nonfiction. It’s one of the most common uses for language today because we often use it to express our opinions about political matters.

Political writing is nonfiction that presents an opinion or interpretation of political issues. It can be in speeches, position papers, or editorials.

Political writing is written communication that deals with government, politics, and political science.

Political writing is the act of sharing or discussing events and situations of a political nature.

Political writing is a genre of the essay, article, or other work that deals with political matters.

What is political writing, and why is it important?

Political writing is a type of writing that makes people think about their opinions, actions, and the world. It’s essential to keep reading it because it helps us get involved in our communities.

Political writing is the use of language to convince others to create change. It’s important because it allows people to express their opinions and ideas, affecting how politicians make decisions that affect everyone.

Political writing uses written language to present a view, promote a plan, or persuade readers.

Political writing is a genre of writing that analyzes and responds to politics. This type of writing is essential because it allows people to voice their opinions about politics and government, which helps create better policies for our country.

Political writing is the art of convincing people to support your point of view through rhetoric and logic.

One type of political writing his speeches. They’re essential because they can influence and educate many people on controversial topics.

Political writing is a way to express one’s opinion on issues that impact the world. It can be in different forms, such as novels, poetry, or news articles.

The history of political writing

In the 17th century, many political pamphlets were written. Many of these pamphlets contained strong opinions and biased information, but most importantly, they helped shape policy in England during this period.

Although the first political writings appeared in ancient times, it wasn’t until much later that people started writing about politics.

Politics have influenced society for thousands of years. Throughout history, politicians have defined the direction of countries and shaped people’s lives.

Types of political writing

  • Political essays are generally written formally to persuade readers to adopt an author’s point of view.
  • A political speech aims to persuade people and rally support for a person or party.
  • A manifesto is an extended essay that lays out one’s beliefs and goals in great detail.
  • Opinion writing is a form of political writing that expresses an opinion about a topic.
  • Essays are usually based on personal experiences and may be autobiographical, but they can also be analytical essays about issues or topics.
  • News reports differ from op-eds because they focus more on factual information than opinions.
  • Editorial: The author’s opinion on a topic, often supported with facts and statistics
  • Letter to the editor: A letter from an individual reader responding to something in the newspaper
  • Magazine article: A long-form article that is usually published in a magazine
  • Opinion Pieces: these are pieces that come from the writer’s personal opinion and can be either positive or negative
  • Analysis: This type of writing analyzes a topic in-depth, usually with statistics and data to back up its points
  • News Stories: news stories tell readers about current events happening around the world; they may include interviews with experts on the issue or people who have been affected by it
  • Op-Eds: op-eds are articles written by someone outside of an organization, such as a politician, activist, union leader, etc., meant for publication in a newspaper or magazine
  • Argumentation
  • Campaigning/Polemicizing
  • Persuasive writing
  • Informative writing
  • Narrative writing

How to write a persuasive political speech

A persuasive political speech is a type of writing that aims to convince the audience that your view on an issue is more valid than others. To do this, you must start by acknowledging different opinions and pointing out why they are wrong.

The initial step in writing a persuasive speech is to establish your credibility. For example, please talk about your accomplishments for the party or how many years you’ve been involved.

A persuasive political speech should be well-prepared, clear, and straightforward, logically structured. It should focus on the main points without unnecessary details.

A persuasive speech is a type of speech designed to convince the audience. This can be done through logical reasoning, testimonies, facts, figures, or stories.

It would help to tell the audience what you stand for and why and how you will fulfill your promises. It will help if you convince them they want to change their lives or won’t vote for you.

A good speech should be like a story with a beginning, middle, and end. It should present the main idea in the opening sentence or paragraph and develop it throughout the speech. A persuasive political speech will use facts and statistics to support its views.

A political speech is a great way to persuade your audience and win votes. If you’d like to learn some things you can do before writing your address, that will help with the process.

How to write an op-ed piece

Op-ed pieces help express your opinion on a topic.

An op-ed piece is an opinionated article in which the author expresses their views on a topic recently discussed in the news.

An op-ed piece is a short article published in newspapers or other media. It does not necessarily reflect the newspaper’s opinion but rather that of an individual writer.

An op-ed piece is an article that expresses a writer’s opinion on current affairs. This writing style is frequently used in newspapers, magazines, and blogs.

Best Practices for Political Writing

  • Be clear about your position on the issue
  • Provide evidence to support your point of view
  • Ensure you have a good thesis statement and the main idea of your essay or article.
  • Use strong verbs and nouns to make sentences more powerful
  • Avoid using too many adjectives or adverbs; instead, use descriptive words that show what something looks like, smells like, tastes like, feels like, etc
  • Keep it short- this means no more than five paragraphs at most (and each section should be less than three sentences)
  • Use clear, concise language
  • Avoid jargon and acronyms that are not universally-known
  • Provide evidence for your claims
  • Write in a way that is easy to understand but still has a depth of knowledge
  • allow readers to engage with you through comments or social media shares
  • Avoid using slang or idioms
  • Keep sentences short and simple
  • Use active voice, not passive voice
  • Be concise- get to the point quickly without rambling about irrelevant information.
  • Make sure you know your audience before writing anything political
  • Make sure your writing is engaging and accessible to read
  • Keep it brief, but don’t be too concise- make the reader feel like they’re getting something out of reading your article
  • Use a variety of sentences with varying lengths to keep readers interested in what you have to say
  • Be careful not to be preachy or biased when discussing political topics.
  • Use simple language- avoid jargon and acronyms.
  • Avoid hyperbole, exaggeration, and generalizations.
  • Create an apparent argument with evidence to support your claims
  • Be concise- don’t ramble or go off on tangents
  • Stick to one point at a time- present new ideas in separate paragraphs
  • Use persuasive language to connect with the reader, but avoid over-the-top rhetoric or exaggerated claims.
  • Provide specific evidence for your assertions
  • Avoid using unnecessary jargon and acronyms
  • Read the publication’s guidelines
  • Write objectively, not emotionally
  • Use active voice and strong verbs to convey power and action
  • Keep your sentences short and simple for easy readability
  • Include sources in your writing when possible
  • Use short, punchy sentences
  • Avoid using jargon or acronyms without explaining what they mean
  • Keep your writing simple and easy to read
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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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January 20, 2012

How to write a (good) political speech.

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Often It's A Good Political Speech That Gets The Vote Out

Often It's A Good Political Speech That Gets The Vote Out

Political speeches, for the most part, are forgettable . Except when they aren’t. If you’ve spent any time listening to the types of speeches that politicians are giving these days, they are basically junk ( the Phil Davison, GOP Candidate, Delivers Stark County Treasurer Speech on YouTube is a classic bad political speech ). The question is whose fault is this: the speech writers or the speech givers? I’m willing to bet that the art of writing a good political speech has been forgotten by far too many speechwriters. I’m going to solve that problem right now…

What Is Rhetoric?

Political speeches are a specialized form of speech. According to Wikipedia, rhetoric is the art of using language to communicate effectively and persuasively . What this means for us is that when we use rhetoric to create a political speech, we want the speech to accomplish a goal – convince an audience to vote our way.

If you want to dive in deeper to rhetoric , you can explore the three audience appeals: logos (reason), pathos (emotions), and ethos (knowledge). For our purposes here we’ll stick with the understanding that a good political speech needs to win over an audience no matter how you go about doing it.

What’s Wrong With Political Speeches Today?

Most speeches given by politicians today suffer from the same fatal flaw: they are completely forgettable . Exactly who’s fault this is has not been resolved: is it the speechwriter’s fault or the speech givers? No matter, both are probably partially to blame.

Where did things go wrong? Jeff Shesol who is a political speech writer believes that one of the reasons that political speeches have lost their punch is because of how speech writers are writing them.

He points out that it’s all too easy for political speech writers to focus on the sound bites that they hope will be captured out of a speech. In order to make this happen, they over use such tools as alliteration (repetition of a particular sound in the first syllables of a series of words and/or phrases: “economy, employment, empowerment”) and cliches (an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect: “there’s no place like home”).

Even worse, too many speech writers / speakers believe that if they keep saying the same thing over and over again it will eventually become true . The reality is that the audience tunes out the speaker and the speech ends up being quickly forgotten.

What Does It Take To Write A Good Political Speech?

All of this negativity talking about political speeches might make you feel as though there is no hope – maybe it’s not possible to create a political speech that has an impact . The good news is that history shows us that this is not true. Churchill, Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton, etc. have shown us that political speeches can still change the world. They just have to be created the right way.

The first thing that you need to realize when you are sitting down to write a political speech is that the speech needs to have a point . What is the main goal: do you want the audience to take some action, vote a particular way, etc.? A political speech without a point is just a waste of everyone’s time.

Next, you had better take the time to organize your speech in a way that your audience will be able to follow what you are saying. Sure, you might believe that what you are asking them to do is the right thing, but if you don’t lay out your reasoning in a way that they can follow then they won’t come along for the ride.

Finally, and this may be the most important point of all, every single word in your speech must matter . This means that there can’t be any phrases that are in there just for filler or just to transition from one thought to another. Instead, ruthless editing is involved and every word that is not contributing to reaching the final goal needs to be chopped out and removed. Shesol points out that an excellent example of this is the speech that Bill Gates gave at the Davos meeting of the World Economic Forum in which he introduced “Creative Capitalism”.

What All Of This Means For You

At some time we are all called on to write a political speech. We may not be running for president, but perhaps we’re trying to get elected to the local school board. No matter, there are too many bad political speeches out there – we don’t want to contribute to this mess .

Instead, we want to write a good political speech . To do this we need to make sure that our speech has a very clear point to it. The speech will need to be well organized and every word in it will need to have a purpose for being there.

If we can craft a political speech that has these characteristics, then we will have created a very powerful communication tool . With tools like this, elections can be won and from there, the world can be changed.

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comprehensively explain political speech writing

Politicians and other public figures deploy particular rhetorical devices to communicate their ideas and to convince people, and it’s time that we all learned how to use them, says speechwriter Simon Lancaster.

This post is part of TED’s “How to Be a Better Human” series, each of which contains a piece of helpful advice from someone in the TED community; browse through all the posts here.

There is a secret language of leadership — and it’s one that anyone can learn, says UK speechwriter Simon Lancaster in a TEDxVerona talk . He has made a career out of crafting addresses, remarks and talks for top politicians and CEOs of international corporations such as Nestle and Unilever, and continues to do so . Refreshingly, rather than clinging Gollum-like to what he’s learned and knows, he believes everyone should have access to the same tools that he and his colleagues use.

By tools, he’s not talking about special software or databases — he’s referring to rhetoric. Rhetoric has its roots in ancient Greece ( think: Aristotle ) as clear, convincing speech was seen as an essential component of communication and participation in a democracy. Instruction in rhetoric remained part of the curriculum in many secondary schools in Europe and the US until the 19th century.

“The reason we all used to learn rhetoric at school was because it was seen as a basic entry point to society,” explains Lancaster, who is based in London. “How could society be fair, unless everyone had equal ability to articulate and express themselves? Without it, your legal systems, your political systems, your financial systems are not fair.”

Yes, the power to persuade is just that — power.

Lancaster states there is only one school in England that still teaches rhetoric: Eton, the alma mater of 20 Prime Ministers (including current officeholder, Boris Johnson). He adds, “It should be of intense concern to all of us that education in this has been narrowed to a very small … elite.”

While Lancaster can’t send the world to Eton, he can share the 6 rhetorical building blocks needed to speak persuasively. Here they are:

Building block #1: Breathless sentences or phrases

Barack Obama gave an acceptance speech for the ages in 2008 after he was first elected president of the US. He spoke vividly of the challenges that lay ahead for the country: “Even as we celebrate tonight, we know that the challenges tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime: Two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.”

Lancaster wants us to pay special attention to the last part of that sentence, the “two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century” part. Yes, it’s a stressful mouthful — not just because of the content but because of how it’s delivered. Short, staccato phrases like these mimic how we speak when we’re anxious and in a hurry. This technique helps communicate urgency to an audience.

Building block #2: Speaking in 3s

What’s the other rhetorical trick underlying “two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century”? The rule of 3.

Humans are accustomed to things coming in 3s: whether it’s judges on American Idol , bowls of porridge in a fairy tale , or sides in a triangle. Our minds and ears have been trained by speeches (Abraham Lincoln’s “government of the people, for the people, by the people”); slogans (reduce, reuse, recycle); and book titles ( Elizabeth Gilbert ‘s memoir Eat, Pray, Love ). “You put your argument in 3s, it makes it sound more compelling, more convincing, more credible. Just like that,” says Lancaster.

Recall British PM Winston Churchill’s stirring triplet from the speech he delivered to Parliament on June 4, 1940 : “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight on the fields and in the streets.” Besides the rule of 3, he gave the line additional rhetorical firepower by repeating the opening clause.

Lancaster explains, “When we are emotional about things, our perspective distorts, and this then manifests in our speech. So this is the authentic sound of passion.” Doing this can catch an audience in the speaker’s enthusiasm.

Building block #3: Balanced statements

“Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” It’s a line from president John F Kennedy’s inspiring 1961 inaugural address , and one that’s stood the test of time. Why? Its balanced construction, says Lancaster. “If the sentence sounds as if it’s balanced, we imagine that the underlying thinking is balanced and our brain is tuned to like things that are balanced.”

Grouping balanced statements in 3s further amplifies the effect:

“We’re looking to the future, not the past.

We’re working together, not against one another.

We’re thinking about what we can do, not what we can’t.”

Building block #4: Metaphor

According to Lancaster, people use a metaphor once every 16 words on average ( side question: Where do statistics like this even come from? ). He declares, “Metaphor is probably the most powerful piece of political communication.”

Metaphors are rich in imagery and awake immediate feelings in people, so it follows that politicians love them and sprinkle them like birdseed (“like birdseed” is a simile, not a metaphor , and similes are other strong rhetorical tools to have in your kit). At times, they can employ them to point us to an ideal or aspiration. For example, in his farewell address , president Ronald Reagan movingly invoked America, h/t to John Winthrop, as a “shining city upon the hill.”

Too often, however, metaphors are used to manipulate, incite and denigrate. Politicians and talking heads could have called the 2015-16 refugee encampment in Calais, France, a “refugee camp” or “refugee settlement.” Instead, they deployed this loaded word: “jungle.” Lancaster says,“It’s planting in your mind the idea that migrants are like wild animals to be afraid of, that they are dangerous, that they represent a threat to you. This is a very dangerous metaphor because this is the language of genocide; it’s the language of hate.” Unfortunately, media outlets picked up “Calais jungle” and used it as their shorthand identifier of the camp, extending the metaphor’s reach.

Building block #5: Exaggeration

In the same way that we get breathless when they’re speaking with passion, our speech distorts in another significant way. We exaggerate. So when we’re sitting down to a meal after having eaten little that day, we tell our family and friends: “I love this pizza.” But when we say things like this to each other, we also realize it’s a bit of distortion: We do not love the pizza in the same way that we love our children or parents or the planet, and everyone present knows that.

Similarly, politicians and leaders might say things like “I’ve waited my whole life to say these words” or “I will work to achieve this with all my heart and soul.” These utterances are indeed over the top, but because they’re acceptable and even welcome since they echo how we speak.

Building block #6: Rhyming

Starting from childhood, many of us are taught concepts through rhymes — such as “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” or “i before e except after c.” With their musicality, they’re a pleasing informational snack that sticks in memories like a musical earworm .

Rhymes can seem corny, but sprinkled in at the right time, they can be incredibly potent. We all  remember the pithy “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” from defense attorney Johnnie Cochran during O.J. Simpson’s 1995 murder trial.

Rhyming’s appeal comes “down to what linguists talk about as the processing fluency of language — how easy is language to swallow?” says Lancaster. “If you speak using long words and long sentences, it’s like giving someone a steak and asking them to swallow it. Whereas if you give them something pithy, like a rhyme, it’s like asking them to just sip on some Prosecco.”

These six tricks can help us speak directly to people’s instinctive, emotional and logical brains, and they are extremely effective, says Lancaster. There’s no need for us to be in the public eye to use them in order to sway others or make our words stay in people’s minds. Even if we never employ them in our own lives, it’s equally important for us to recognize them. Politicians, con artists and advertisers utilize them to win votes, spread opinions, or sell products people don’t need. By being alert to these rhetorical devices, we can be better citizens and consumers.

To learn more about rhetoric, watch this:

Watch Simon Lancaster’s TEDxVerona talk here:

About the author

Daryl Chen is the Ideas Editor at TED.

  • how to be a better human
  • public speaking
  • simon lancaster

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What It's Really Like To Be a Political Speechwriter

Spoiler alert: it's nothing like The West Wing .

comprehensively explain political speech writing

Few political staffers are lionized as much as the political speechwriter. You know the caricature: the rumpled hair, desk strewn with empty coffee cups, peering at a laptop screen searching for the perfect turn of phrase. Their struggle is real, but their gallant prose can bring a nation to its feet.

In reality, few speechwriters look like Sam Seaborn, or even his rubber-ball-throwing counterpart, Toby Ziegler . Rather than tortured wordsmiths who can afford to belabor every syllable, speechwriters have to deal with the same time constraints, bureaucracy, and petty office politics as any other drone in a political office.

Barton Swaim occupied that space for nearly four years as a speechwriter for Rep. Mark Sanford during his time as governor of South Carolina. When Swaim started working in Sanford's office, he knew he wanted to write a book about the political life — something funny, maybe a novel. Then the Appalachian Trail happened. Swaim's new book, The Speechwriter , chronicles his time in Sanford's office before and after the revelation that Sanford was having an affair with a woman in Argentina when he told his staff he was hiking.

When he first came to Sanford's office, Swaim, who has a Ph. D. in English, quickly learned that his writing was not up to the governor's snuff. One of Swaim's duties was transcribing Sanford's dictated letters to constituents, and he picked up the quirks of the governor's speech that way.

"I copied down a lot of his phrases and weird expressions, and I would just sprinkle everything I wrote with those expressions, whether they were appropriate or not," Swaim said.

Some of those phrases: "speaks volumes," "a whole host of," "in large measure," "pearls of wisdom," "unique," "fabulous," and especially "given the fact that." When giving a speech or discussing policy, Sanford would demand the writers give him three points, never two.

Sanford preferred to write his own speeches when he had the time, so Swaim was consigned to writing speeches for less-than-momentous occasions — the ground-breaking and ribbon-cutting ceremonies that take up much of a governor's face time with the public.

"I thought I was going to be this great speechwriter, stringing grand phrases together and soaring oratory and all this," Swaim said. "I was basically just coming up with cute things that you could say at a gathering of the National Square Dancing Society, or a grand opening at the Heinz factory. So, coming up with stories about ketchup."

Matt Latimer can sympathize. He became a speechwriter for then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2004. He recalls receiving a "snowflake," one of Rumsfeld's infamous brief one-page notes, from the secretary on his writing preferences.

"One of my favorite snowflakes he sent me was, 'I never use the word "very." It is a very weak word,' " Latimer said.

In 2007, Latimer moved from the Pentagon to the White House to write speeches for President George W. Bush. This was in the late stages of Bush's presidency, when the Iraq War was going sideways and the economy was collapsing in on itself.

"It was less like Aaron Sorkin's The West Wing and more like The Office ," Latimer wrote in his 2009 book Speech-Less: Tales of a White House Survivor .

Like Swaim, Latimer often found himself frustrated with the layers of bureaucracy involved in writing more high-profile speeches, so he gravitated toward ceremonial speeches. One of the speeches Latimer is most proud of writing was when Bush presented the Congressional Gold Medal to members of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Here's an excerpt of that speech:

"I'm interested in a story about a young man who was so worried that the Army might change its mind about allowing him to fly that he drove immediately to the train station; he left his car as well as $1,000 worth of photography equipment. He never saw his car. He never saw his camera. But he became a flyer. These men in our presence felt a special sense of urgency. They were fighting two wars: one was in Europe, and the other took place in the hearts and minds of our citizens. That's why we're here."

It's a near-perfect blend of prose, research, anecdote, and commitment to the greater purpose of our country. And even Latimer, who by that point already felt some disenchantment toward his job, still recognized the importance of delivering all those elements — that Bush's audience deserved to hear something good.

Being a speechwriter is like being a novelist, only with more behind-the-scenes power and fewer accolades. The one thing being a speechwriter does not provide is fame — that is, until you leave your job and write a tell-all book about your old boss.

Swaim and Latimer are just two in a long tradition of political speechwriters turning toward more creative expressions of their craft. Peggy Noonan's book, What I Saw at the Revolution , chronicles her work as a speechwriter for President Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush. And Mark Salter, who wrote speeches for Sen. John McCain during his 2008 presidential run, was revealed as the anonymous author of O: A Presidential Novel in 2011.

When asked if he would ever want to work as a speechwriter again, Swaim — who now works as the communications director for the South Carolina Policy Council — chuckled. "Who would hire me?"

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of a speechwriter for Sen. McCain's 2008 campaign. His name is Mark Salter.


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What Makes a  Speech Political? 

Writing a political speech, what’s a political speech.

There are all kinds of speeches. People give speeches of celebration at weddings and birthday parties. They give speeches when explaining the latest scientific discovery and when trying to sell you things.

This competition isn’t about those kinds of speech.

It is about political speeches.

What makes a speech political?

There’s no simple answer. But think, for example, of speeches in a Parliamentary debate on a contentious bill. Those speeches will make arguments for or against something that we might do (or might not do) and will show how it will make the future better (or worse). That something will be an action that could, in principle, be implemented (or stopped). It might be going to war, signing a treaty, holding an election; raising a tax, ending a benefit, making something illegal.

In other words, political speeches concern decisions about possible courses of action which are contentious and contested and about which people might reasonably disagree.

All of this means that, unlike a lot of your university essays, your speech won’t be about politics. It will be an instance of politics. You will be trying to win people’s support for a proposition concerning something a community, a party, a council, a government, a country might do. It doesn’t have to be a big thing though. We are interested in your skills at writing a persuasive speech and not how dramatic a position you can take. 

Your speech:

  • will be about something you think should or shouldn’t happen, something that we might support or oppose
  • won’t only explain things, and display your reading and learning, but also give people reasons to agree with your proposition

In drafting your speech, you should think about:

  • what arguments might be significant for other people (not only the ones most persuasive for you)
  • what people need to know about your proposition so that they can understand and get on board with what you are talking about
  • the examples, data, quotations and other kinds of evidence which will help make your case
  • the logical arguments – such as those about principle – which can show to people why your proposal is good and right as well as likely to work
  • the arguments people might make against your proposal (so that you can refute them in advance)
  • how to make an audience pay attention to you and to what you are saying
  • how to engage people emotionally so that they are motivated by your arguments
  • how to say things in a way that is memorable, powerful and interesting  

Judging Criteria

Don’t worry if you are nervous about public speaking. In this competition we aren’t primarily concerned with judging how confident or authoritative you sound (and finalists will get training in that). We’re interested in your speech writing . We want to see how well you can develop and make a political case for something in a way that is suitable for a general audience.

Below are some of the key things we will think about when judging entries. Think about these when you draft your speech.


Is the speech well organised? Does it have a clear and intelligible structure so that people can follow it? Does it develop well and do the arguments sensibly flow one from another? Does it explain things it needs to explain so that there is clarity as to what is being said and why?


We aren’t looking for speeches that are only rants. But we also aren’t expecting pure philosophical or mathematical perfection. This is politics and in politics things are contested. But for that very reason you do need to give people reasons to agree with you and not simply insist. You need to justify the claims you make. We’ll be asking: are good reasons presented for agreeing with and believing the speech? Is evidence (facts, examples, references to authorities) brought forward when needed and used well? Are claims logical and sensible?


Does the speech make use of relevant information? Does it make sure audiences know what they need to know to judge the case? Is that information used well and is it accurate?

Is the speech well adapted to a general audience or is it more likely to work only for other specialists or people who already agree?

Does the speech make good use of words? Is the vocabulary rich but appropriate for a general audience? Does the speech say things in ways that are memorable and vivid? Is it likely to engage and motivate an audience? Does it make good use of figurative language, powerful images, to communicate its ideas? Does it make appropriate use of rhythm and repetition? Will the language used hold and heighten audience’s interest and help them feel connected to the issues?

comprehensively explain political speech writing

The Campaign Workshop Blog

Write a political speech.

speech for strategic communications

Write a Political Speech for Strategic Communications

Write a Political Speech - All candidates for political office should have a strategic communications plan in place, but not all candidates need to worry about writing lots of speeches for their campaign. For local office races, you may only find yourself wishing you had a speech during your announcement and on election night. In those moments, don’t panic! Writing a basic speech is easier than you think.

Monroe’s Motivated Sequence

There’s a format used by most political speechwriters, whether they realize they’re using it or not, called Monroe’s Motivated Sequence.  When you write a political speech use the five components of the Monroe Sequence, you can develop a persuasive argument to communicate just about anything your campaign might need - GOTV, asking for donations, defending a policy - in no time! All you have to do is place your argument into these five strategic steps:

1. Attention: This is where you draw the audience in at the top of a speech. It’s often necessary to welcome people and thank certain members of your audience right away, but try to keep that part short. Instead, focus on engaging your listeners. An attention grabber could be anything from a short personal anecdote to a rhetorical question. It allows the audience to connect with you and settle in for the rest of the speech.

2. Need: The need step could also be known as the problem step. This is where your argument truly begins. In the context of a strategic communications plan, the need step often lays out how a certain elected official or policy isn’t doing the best job. In this phase of the speech, you want to invite the audience to question their current situation.

3.  Satisfaction: Satisfaction comes when you provide a solution to the problem that was laid out in the need step. You want to calm the audience’s anxieties by explaining how you are going to make their lives better, and how the problem doesn’t have to exist. Is the problem that the district’s representative is failing to support small businesses? Lay out your plans to promote the local economy. 

4.  Visualization: The visualization step can be a little bit tricky because it’s fairly similar to the satisfaction step. In the satisfaction phase, you are presenting the details of your solution. Visualization ramps things up a bit by inviting your audience to imagine what their lives would look like if your solution (most likely you getting elected) actually happened. You need to paint a clear picture that the audience can see themselves in.

5.  Action: It’s all built up to this - asking your audience to actually DO something about the problem in order to help achieve your solution. In a strategic communications plan, this often means asking for a vote or a campaign contribution. The most strategic action steps are clear and simple. You want the audience to understand exactly what it is that they can do, and then feel compelled to do it. The action step should sum up what the purpose of your speech was all about. 

While this is the most standard sequence used when you write a political speech, feel free to play around with the order of the steps. Just remember that ultimately, each of these steps is helping you prove a point. Don’t be afraid to break minor grammar rules, either. Writing for the ear is different than writing for the eye. If you spoke in the same style as most great writing, you would probably come off sounding a little distant or robotic to your audience. Starting sentences with conjunctions and using common language can actually work really well in a political communications. 

Have questions about how to write a political speech?  Comment below. Check out blogs on political communications here!

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comprehensively explain political speech writing

My Speech Class

Public Speaking Tips & Speech Topics

61 Politics Speech Topic Examples [Persuasive, Informative]

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Jim Peterson has over 20 years experience on speech writing. He wrote over 300 free speech topic ideas and how-to guides for any kind of public speaking and speech writing assignments at My Speech Class.

Persuasive and Informative speech topics about politics.

In this article:


speech topics politics

  • Only democracy stimulates to life real in liberty and to pursue happiness.
  • Some democratic republics pretend they are democracies.
  • Middle East peace efforts are worthless and media silence is the only way out.
  • Political correctness kills freedom of speech and wheedles to oppression and no respect for human rights.
  • A President should be able to serve for more than two terms if the people want her or him.
  • Political funding committees should be more regulated.
  • Quebec should become independent, but at what cost?
  • Australia is not doing enough to help their indigenous population.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger was a good governor in California.
  • Ban hate politicians from political campaigns.
  • Celebrities: stay out of politics!
  • Citizens who don’t participate in democratic processes should be forbidden to vote.
  • Global leadership is not possible.
  • Honesty and integrity are the most important qualities of an elected official.
  • Only democratic nations should have a vote in the U.N. General Assembly.
  • Parliamentary terms need to be limited.
  • Political organizations should be forbidden at campuses.
  • Politics was invented by people who wanted to be in charge.
  • Power to the people is not reality in our democracy.
  • Private campaign contributions for elections should be banned.
  • Spin doctors are the rulers of political campaigns.
  • Syria and Libya should be banned from the United Nations.
  • The immunity of politicians in office must be abolished.
  • There is a liberal bias in the media by highly educated journalists with a left-wing agenda.
  • There is a new kind of colonialism between foreign politics.
  • Trading with politically unstable nations is a gamble.
  • Why -fill name here- is or was the best head of state.
  • A wall on the USA/Mexico border could combat illegal immigration.
  • Continue the war on drugs by attacking the ingredients needed for production.
  • Governments must prioritize poverty.
  • How influencing governmental decisions by lobbying really works.
  • Tax havens like Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
  • How to calculate a solid retirement plan when you are still a student.
  • The strategy of the UN to eliminate poverty.
  • The education system (K-12 up to university) in Asia explained.
  • The effect of the abortion laws on the number of illegal abortions performed.
  • Congressional speaking times and limits.
  • Elections for the House of Representatives.
  • Elections for the Senate.
  • Famous parliamentary debates.
  • Forms of parliamentary democracies.
  • Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “New Clothes of the King”, is still actual in today’s politics.
  • How congress is structured.
  • How to become an MP or Senator.
  • How to cope with unparliamentarily language.
  • International Diplomacy.
  • Political corruption worldwide.
  • Political distinguishments between the terms FTO and liberation movement.
  • Privileges of members of congress.
  • Procedures and rules of the House of Chamber.
  • Scandals and fighting in the house.
  • The changing role of the African National Congress in modern South Africa.
  • The classical Trias Political model.
  • The division of executive power in the senatorial system.
  • The function of the Speaker of the House.
  • The life, career and works of former UN Chief Annan.
  • The procedures for legislatorial debates.
  • The role of congressional committees.
  • The silent power of back benchers.
  • Violence and terror during the Russian revolution.
  • Ways to increase participation in the democratic process.

Law, Legal, Legislation Speech Topics [Persuasive, Informative]

292 Education Speech Topics [Persuasive, Informative, Argumentative]

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terrorism would that be a good one to explore…?

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Articles on Political speech

Displaying 1 - 20 of 35 articles.

comprehensively explain political speech writing

Politicians weren’t confident discussing Brexit – my analysis of parliamentary debates shows how

Imko Meyenburg , Anglia Ruskin University

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Peter West , Durham University

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I analyzed all of Trump’s tweets to find out what he was really saying

Michael Humphrey , Colorado State University

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Incitement to violence is rarely explicit – here are some techniques people use to breed hate

H. Colleen Sinclair , Mississippi State University

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No, Twitter is not censoring Donald Trump. Free speech is not guaranteed if it harms others

Katharine Gelber , The University of Queensland

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When politicians use hate speech, political violence increases

James Piazza , Penn State

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Trump’s appeals to white anxiety are not ‘dog whistles’ – they’re racism

Bethany Albertson , The University of Texas at Austin

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Speeches, both scripted and off the cuff, turn Biden’s campaign around

David A. Frank , University of Oregon

comprehensively explain political speech writing

Will the High Court ruling on public servant’s tweets have a ‘powerful chill’ on free speech?

Anthony Forsyth , RMIT University

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Is free speech alive and well? 5 essential reads

Emily Costello , The Conversation and Danielle Douez, The Conversation

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Is liking something on Facebook ‘protected political speech’? It depends

Melissa Castan , Monash University

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J Edgar Hoover’s oversteps: Why FBI directors are forbidden from getting cozy with presidents

Douglas M. Charles , Penn State

comprehensively explain political speech writing

Treasurer Scott Morrison’s 2017-18 budget speech, annotated by experts

Tom Clark , Victoria University ; Annabelle Lukin , Macquarie University , and Danielle Wood , Grattan Institute

comprehensively explain political speech writing

Theresa May got her response to the Westminster attack just right

Paul Breen , University of Westminster

comprehensively explain political speech writing

Trump trolls, Pirate Parties and the Italian Five Star Movement: The internet meets politics

Andrea Ballatore , Birkbeck, University of London and Simone Natale , Loughborough University

comprehensively explain political speech writing

After a brutal campaign, a moment of transcendence for Hillary Clinton

Jennifer Mercieca , Texas A&M University

comprehensively explain political speech writing

In victory speech, Donald Trump discovers the power of ‘we’

Christian Lundberg , University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

comprehensively explain political speech writing

How just one little metaphor can fire up our emotions

Francesca Citron , Lancaster University

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Theresa May has a very special technique for avoiding questions

Peter Bull , University of York

comprehensively explain political speech writing

Can we learn from Thucydides’ writings on the Trump of ancient Athens?

Chris Mackie , La Trobe University

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August 18, 2020

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Politics and the English Language

By George Orwell

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 henhouse. 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 cudgel 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, make contact with, be subjected 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-purpose 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 the 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 by 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 a simple statement and give an aire of scientific impartiality to biased judgements. Adjectives like epoch-making, epic, historic, unforgettable, triumphant, age-old, inevitable, inexorable, veritable, are used to dignify the sordid process of international politics, while writing that aims at glorifying war usually takes on an archaic color, 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 the English language. 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, subaqueous, and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon numbers. 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 Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix and, where necessary, the size formation. It is often easier to make up words of this kind (deregionalize, impermissible, extramarital, non-fragmentary 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. 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 ever 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 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 regime 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 Petain 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 considerations of contemporary phenomena compel 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 phrases “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 considerations 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 analyze these two sentences a little more closely. The first contains forty-nine words but only sixty syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains thirty-eight words of ninety syllables: eighteen of those 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 ninety 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 fifty three 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. The 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 color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestoes, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases—bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained 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 favorable to political conformity.

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense 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 the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless 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 regime 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 rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.

The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline 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 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 flyblown 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, 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 defense 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 around. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When yo think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing you probably hunt about until 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 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, and then switch round and decide what impressions 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:

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

Never us 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.

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.

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