When it comes to writing for your charity, doing it yourself isn’t always best. In this blog, we’ll explore how an external perspective can help you – and what you can do if that’s not an option.
Working within charities, there’s always the pressure of making the most of your time, and donations from your supporters. Often, that translates into ‘mucking in’ – getting stuff done as best you can by yourself, as quickly as possible.
And as you write more and more for your charity, it comes easier. So you learn to enjoy it. You take pride in the fact you can put your knowledge into writing or quickly bash something out.
But ultimately, what matters most is the end product – what your audience is going to read – not who did it or how it was done. Sometimes you and your charity colleagues might not be the best people to write something.
So instead, here’s three ways why bringing on someone external to help with your writing can benefit your charity.
The topic and the angle
When working within any organisation – medical research charity or otherwise – it can be easy to ‘get in too deep’, or to be ‘too close’ to the topic. You’ve rightly become an expert in the area your charity works. While that can often be useful, it might also cloud your vision as to what is interesting, exciting or necessary reading for an external audience – such as your charity’s supporters.
The fact is, we all have things that we’re excited about which might not excite anyone else. (Heck, I know more than anyone that the blogs I write are sometimes very niche.) But remember, if you’re working for a charity, the time you spend on writing something has been paid for by your supporters’ donations. It makes good sense to make sure you’re writing for your audience (and not just yourself). I would argue it’s an obligation to use your supporters’ money effectively.
So ask yourself these questions when you’re approaching some writing:
- Who is it for? What do I want them to do? Why?
- Is this a topic that would interest this audience? Would they get excited about it, or find it interesting to read?
- Am I the right person to write this, or would someone else be better placed?
- Do I feel this topic has been done to death (by me or by others?)
It can be difficult to answer these questions objectively if you’re talking about writing you particularly enjoy, feel you’re an ‘expert’ in, or that you’re doing regularly.
An external perspective can help you determine what topics will interest your audience. It can help you find angles that will give even the most niche topics broad appeal. And perhaps an external perspective can breathe fresh life into a stale topic.
Another common problem when you’re an expert in a subject area is that it is too easy to write at an ‘expert’ level. It’s easy to let terminology slip in which others might not be familiar with. It’s easy to mix up which concepts and ideas you’re familiar with and which are familiar to your audience. And ultimately, it’s easy to forget where the ‘leaps in logic’ are for your readers.
I’ve written before about how writing for lay audiences is about reducing the number of ‘science nuggets’ (new pieces of information). However, the answer to that is not to skip through the explanations all together and assume they’ll keep up.
An external perspective can help keep the language you use grounded. And make sure the logic of your writing will make sense to other people.
Whenever you’re editing something you’ve written yourself, it’s easy to miss spelling errors or grammatical mistakes – especially when you feel you’ve looked over something lots of times.
It’s not too tricky to pick holes in your own writing – find a section or paragraph or sentence that you think is rubbish or needs work. However, I certainly find that I can focus too much on these areas, at the expense of overlooking other sections which may also be problematic.
Having an external perspective can help with this kind of editing and proofreading to make sure you’re writing is as error-free as possible. External fact-checkers can also make sure that everything you’ve written is accurate.
What if outsourcing isn’t an option?
It’s not always possible to get someone else to write, edit, or proofread for you – outsourcing is not always the best option. If you feel you could benefit from an external perspective, but can’t afford it or find it, here are my top tips:
1. Give yourself time
Detaching yourself from your writing is much easier if you sleep on it. I like to write something one day and come back to edit it a day or two later with fresh eyes.
2. Put on a new ‘hat’
I like to think about my writing in different phases – almost like I’m wearing different ‘hats’ doing different jobs. For example, I put on my ‘researcher hat’ to read around the topic. I’ll don my ‘writer hat’ and throw down a very rough draft. Then I’ll put on my ‘editor hat’ and tear apart everything the writer did. Before giving pointers on how to improve it. Then I’ll go back to my ‘writer hat’ and make those changes from my horrible editor boss. Thinking about the ‘hat’ you’re wearing at different stages can really help focus your efforts (and if you have actual hats, all the better).
3. Question everything, again and again
You might start out writing with one thing in mind. But as your writing progresses it can take another direction. Sometimes that’s a good thing, but sometimes you lose focus. Always review what you’re doing. Go back and make sure that your writing is (for example) aimed at a particular audience, on a topic they’d be excited about.
4. Read it out loud
It’s classic proofreading advice because it works: reading your writing out aloud really does help to find errors and spelling mistakes. I actually prefer to have it dictated to me. Microsoft Word has a ‘Read Aloud’ function, which gets a robot voice to read it to you at whatever speed you’re comfortable with (Ctrl + Alt + Space on Windows, Ctrl + Option + Space on Mac). It also means you don’t have to get funny looks from your office colleagues or roommates while talking to yourself.
5. Get a colleague to read it.
Find a colleague who is detached enough from what you do to give you their opinion. Of course, you don’t want to get into an elaborate sign-off process. But a quick sense check at critical points could be everything you need.
I specialise in writing for medical research charities, and my clients often say how much they appreciate the external perspective I bring. Want to find how I could help your charity? Get in touch to arrange a no-obligation chat.