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Speechwriting in Perspective: A Brief Guide to Effective and Persuasive Communication

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Publication Date: April 2007

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: 98-170

Topic: Culture and religion (Language and languages)

Abstract:

The frequent delivery of public remarks by Senators and Representatives is an important element of their roles as community leaders, spokespersons, and freely elected legislators. Congressional staff are often called on to help prepare draft remarks for such purposes.

Writing for the spoken word is a special discipline; it requires that congressional speechwriters’ products be written primarily, although not exclusively, to be heard, not read. Speeches are better cast in simple, direct, and often short sentences that can be easily understood by listeners. Rhetorical devices such as repetition, variation, cadence, and balance are available to, and should be used by, the speechwriter.

It is important for speechwriters to analyze audiences according to factors such as age; gender; culture; profession; size of audience; political affiliation, if any; and the occasion for, and purpose of, the speech. Most effective speeches do not exceed 20 minutes in length.

After researching a topic, speechwriters should prepare an outline from which the speech will be developed. They should strive to maintain a clear theme throughout the speech. Most speeches will have a three-part structure consisting of an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.

The accepted style of contemporary American public address is natural, direct, low key, casual, and conversational. This puts listeners at ease and promotes a sense of community between audience and speaker.

Punctuation should reflect the sound structure of the speech, reinforcing the rhythm and pace of actual speech. Clarity of expression is as important a consideration in speech grammar as rigid adherence to rules for written language.

Effective delivery can greatly improve a speech. Congressional speechwriters should make every effort to become familiar with the speaking style of the Member for whom they are writing, and adjust their drafts accordingly.

A wide range of speechwriting resources are available for congressional staff from the Congressional Research Service and other sources.