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Plainly Speaking: Revisiting “In Other Words” by Tony Proscio

One of the first requisite readings for my Grants class at Columbia University is “In Other Words” by Tony Proscio).  As early as possible, I want to make the case for my students that simple language can be more motivating and directive than catchwords, buzzwords and jargon. In preparing this post, I took time to re-read Mr. Proscio’s excellent piece.  A little voice kept saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”   Consider these bon mots from the author’s “Devil’s Dictionary” of grants: Empowerment.  Used liberally, it shows you care Proactive.  Aggressive in a passive sort of way. Site.  A place that talks. Targeting. Sounds long and military, like a guided missile. At the heart of Mr. Proscio’s piece is a pretty simple truth that makes the avoidance of this type of language difficult for grantwriter.  He says: “Foundations, working in many fields, also tend to absorb the argot of all the other fields into which they wander. New phrases and trendy or obscure coinages stick to foundations like briars to a long-haired dog.” In other words [pun somewhat intended], the more we feed foundations buzzwords, jargon, argot the more they may given them back to us.   So, how to break that vicious cycle? A few thoughts. Learn from the smartest communicators on planet earth — kids.  Ever notice how incredibly plain spoken children can be.  So adorable in the early years, so maddening and shocking when the teen years arrive.  But there is no mistake as to their opinions, their wants and their needs. Chop the log and let the chips fall where they may.  I heard this one a lot growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.  Sometimes the direct approach is the best approach.  We oftentimes spend a lot of space, time and words talking around a problem than speaking to it.  If the children in your program are failing, say they are failing.  Not that they are “academically challenged.” Don’t waste words telling the reader what you are going to say anyway. David Fricke, editor of Rolling Stone says “We have people standing downstairs talking on cell phones saying ‘I’ll be there in five minutes.’  Who cares?  Just be there in five minutes.” I will be assigning “In Other Words” to a new class of students this coming semester.  I will ask them to read it, digest it, agree with it, argue with it.  All in hopes of getting grant writers to think about what is being put on paper (or an e-form) to convey hard truths, real needs, great opportunity and greater hope.   Learn more about Tony Proscio and download one of his excellent essays at www.tonyproscio.com

One of the first requisite readings for my Grants class at Columbia University is “In Other Words” by Tony Proscio).  As early as possible, I want to make the case for my students that simple language can be more motivating and directive than catchwords, buzzwords and jargon.

In preparing this post, I took time to re-read Mr. Proscio’s excellent piece.  A little voice kept saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”   Consider these bon mots from the author’s “Devil’s Dictionary” of grants:

Empowerment.  Used liberally, it shows you care

Proactive.  Aggressive in a passive sort of way.

Site.  A place that talks.

Targeting. Sounds long and military, like a guided missile.

At the heart of Mr. Proscio’s piece is a pretty simple truth that makes the avoidance of this type of language difficult for grantwriter.  He says:

“Foundations, working in many fields, also tend to absorb the argot of all the other fields into which they wander. New phrases and trendy or obscure coinages stick to foundations like briars to a long-haired dog.”

In other words [pun somewhat intended], the more we feed foundations buzzwords, jargon, argot the more they may given them back to us.   So, how to break that vicious cycle? A few thoughts.

Learn from the smartest communicators on planet earth — kids.  Ever notice how incredibly plain spoken children can be.  So adorable in the early years, so maddening and shocking when the teen years arrive.  But there is no mistake as to their opinions, their wants and their needs.

Chop the log and let the chips fall where they may.  I heard this one a lot growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.  Sometimes the direct approach is the best approach.  We oftentimes spend a lot of space, time and words talking around a problem than speaking to it.  If the children in your program are failing, say they are failing.  Not that they are “academically challenged.”

Don’t waste words telling the reader what you are going to say anyway. David Fricke, editor of Rolling Stone says “We have people standing downstairs talking on cell phones saying ‘I’ll be there in five minutes.’  Who cares?  Just be there in five minutes.”

I will be assigning “In Other Words” to a new class of students this coming semester.  I will ask them to read it, digest it, agree with it, argue with it.  All in hopes of getting grant writers to think about what is being put on paper (or an e-form) to convey hard truths, real needs, great opportunity and greater hope.  

Learn more about Tony Proscio and download one of his excellent essays at www.tonyproscio.com