Speech Writing II: Technical Guidelines

The following suggestions on format, grammar, and construction in speech writing will help speakers read the speech more effectively and listeners hear the speech more clearly:

• Never trust your speaker with an outline; write everything out, including all cues. If he or she is to hold up a plaque or point to a screen, for example, write those directions into the script, using parentheses.

• Write out dollar amounts (‘‘twelve million dollars,’’ not ‘‘12 million’’ or ‘‘12,000,000’’). Don’t make your speaker count zeros.

• Submit copy that is clean and double-spaced and has reasonable margins. Your speaker may want to make notes. You
may wish to use a large typeface. Some speakers like to have their scripts typed in all capital letters. There is, however, a danger that punctuation can get lost.

• Underline emphasized words.
• Repeat nouns instead of using pronouns (‘‘The school is in trouble’’; ‘‘The school needs your support’’) to remind listeners of the subject and bring their attention back to it should their minds wander.

• Write in parallel phrases and sentences: ‘‘Being here today gives me a chance to thank you, a chance to greet you, and a chance to bring you up to date’’; ‘‘This is a government of the people, by the people, for the people.’’
• Use simple words and simple declarative sentences. Short, crisp sentences are the most dramatic form of writing; forget big words and flowery language. Avoid tongue-twisters. Substitute common words for less used ones, for example, especially for particularly and stubbornness obstinacy.

• Beware of homophones—words that are pronounced alike but are different in meaning, such as pier and peer, sew and sow.
• Keep the subject and verb together. Good: ‘‘Having learned of the new schedule, John arrived at class on time.’’ Poor: ‘‘John, having learned of the new schedule, arrived at class on time.’’
• Don’t overload sentences with subordinate phrases and clauses. Clear, simple wording can transform lackluster speakers into attention getters.
• Be specific, use examples, don’t exaggerate, and don’t overdramatize. Avoid overstated rhetoric and stick to basic, clear expression.
• Beware of quotations. A common first impulse is to refer to Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations for a famous remark on the subject of your speech, but such quotes usually do not work. When a wellknown quote is appropriate and worth using, set it up correctly, like this: ‘‘As President Kennedy said in his inaugural address, and I quote, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.’ End quote.’’ Indicating when you
are using a quotation is essential.
• Avoid plagiarism. Not fully attributing a quote to its original source is plagiarism. Plagiarism is one of the worst sins of any kind of writing and can lead to public embarrassment.Online search engines and antiplagiarism programs frequently used by colleges make plagiarism, whether premeditated or ‘‘accidental,’’ more likely than ever before to be discovered. Punishments range from embarrassment to career suicide. Don’t plagiarize.

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