Writing for Advocacy


  • The purpose of this document is to support you in writing powerful, compelling and accurate documents that advance the mission of MCLD.


In writing documents for MCLD, we need to understand, embody and be rigorous about applying the following key principles:

  • Traditional development writing will not do. Traditional development writing – like traditional development approaches – is too long, boring, linear, and bureaucratic. It is often designed to justify and explain the status quo. In this way, traditional writing reinforces rather than challenges the patriarchal structures that keep people oppressed.
  • Be the principles of CLD. Our writing needs to embody and express respect for the dignity of human beings, our interconnectedness, and our unyielding commitment to transforming how the world does development.
  • Be the strategy of MCLD. To write a piece for MCLD, there are key “big picture” strategic questions that must be addressed. What’s the point? What difference does it make? Why is this different? What’s the overall strategy? Where are we in that strategy? Where are we going?
  • Create powerful distinctions. There are at most three major thrusts – major distinctions – in anything worth writing. A distinction is not simply a category; it is an idea that generates a new way of seeing something. We need to structure the document in a way that clearly defines and communicates compelling distinctions.
  • Don’t write “about” things – write the thing itself. This can be an elusive principle. Usually we use words to talk “about” something – to describe it. This creates a distance between the words and the subject. We want to use words to inspire readers to see what we see – to literally create a new reality for the reader.
  • Don’t tell a “story.” Humans have a tendency to tell things linearly – we started at X, and then we did this and then we did this, and finally we got to Z. This is boring. A good journalist turns the linear approach on its head. Newsflash: we got to Z. We got there through a strategy Y. Some of the key lessons learned were A, B, C.
  • You don’t read it – it reads you. People should not have to work to read our documents; our writing must reach out and grab the reader. At a glance, the readers should get the point. Just seeing the headlines and subheads, they get the point. If they read the first few words, they’re drawn in.
  • Write powerfully. Write simple sentences in active voice. Keep paragraphs short. Human eyes glaze over after five lines. One idea – one paragraph. Use bold or italics for emphasis (never underlining!). And – as with this piece – tag paragraphs with bold keywords.


  • Make the point in the first paragraph. If a person only reads is the first paragraph, that should give them everything.
  • Tell them what you’re going to tell them. The second paragraph should give the reader an overview of the rest of the piece so that they can see the whole.


  • Write a great “lede.” Journalists call the first line the “lede.” A great lede gives you the full story – who / what / when / where / why. What was accomplished? Who made it happen? When and where did it happen? Why is it important?
  • Give context. People need to understand how our subject fits into the big picture of achieving the SDGs. If X happens, how does this represent an important step towards building resilient communities?
  • Give the new landscape. In our strategic process, each step should reveal a new landscape of what’s possible. OK, now that we accomplished X, we can see that we can now seize the opportunity of Y to make an even greater difference.
  • Point to the future. What are the priorities for the next unit of time? What do we intend to accomplish next?


  • Pull it together and end strong. Follow the mantra – “tell them what you’re going to tell them – tell them – tell them you told them.” At the end of the document, the different thrusts of the piece must come back together into a whole, and point to the next accomplishment.

Additional References