Writer’s Desk: Write Like the Ukraine Whistleblower

Washington, D.C. A government clerk's room, showing a desk with books, telephone and directory, and a desk lamp on it

Jane Rosenzweig, director of the Writing Center at Harvard, has some surprising advice for where to find good writing: Follow the example of the government whistleblower who filed a complaint about how the *President has been degrading the office (most recently). According to Rosenzweig, this might be a government report, but it does what all good writing must:

  • Right to the point!

He wastes no time on background or pleasantries before stating that he is writing to report “an ‘urgent’ concern.” And then he immediately states it.

  • Subheadings!

The whistle-blower’s subheadings do what the best subheadings do: They structure the complaint and provide a clear outline of what the document contains.

  • Great topic sentences!

Strong persuasive or expository writing features topic sentences that tell the reader what to focus on.

  • Active verbs!

Passive constructions leave us hanging about who did what, which can be useful if you’re trying to deflect responsibility for something. But if you want to keep your reader focused on who is accountable for what, tell them by making sure your sentences feature real people performing actions.

The whistle-blower could turn out to be a writer in their free time. They could also just be a person who understands that it’s not enough to tell somebody something, you have to tell them well.

So pay attention to your writing. You never know when the fate of democracy could depend on it.

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