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The research you’ll need to do for this assignment is simply research to give you the factual information you need to write your speech. As such your research will primary be from things like news sources, government documents, documents from the private sector, etc.
This report revises and expands an earlier report of the same title prepared by Charles H.
Whittier, Specialist in Religion and Public Policy, former Government Division.
Speechwriting in Perspec
tive: A Brief Guide
to Effective and Persuasive Communication
“Rhetoric,” wrote Aristotle, “is the power
of determining in a particular case
what are the available means of persuasi
on.” This report revi
ews some effective
means for the rhetoric of persuasi
ve communication in speeches written by
congressional staff for Senators and Representatives. By speeches, this report means
draft statements prepared for oral delive
ry by Members. Such speeches are often
prepared under the pressure of deadlines
that leave minimal time for extensive
revision. Moreover, they must often be dr
afted in whole or part for Members who
may have little opportunity to
edit and amend them. The burdens of public office (as
well as of campaigning) and the insistent demand for speeches of every kind for a
variety of occasions require some degree
of reliance on speechwriters, a reliance that
is heightened by the limitations of time and the urgencies of the media.
A speech thus “ghostwritten” should neve
rtheless reflect the intention and even
the style of the speaker. The best g
hostwriters are prope
rly invisible; they
subordinate themselves to the speaker
in such a way that the final product is
effectively personalized in the process
of actual communication. The only ways to
achieve or even approach this ideal are pr
actice and experience. This report seeks to
provide some guidance for congressional st
aff on the principles and practice of
speechwriting. The suggestions offered
herein, when combined with practice,
attention to audience and occasion, and, mo
st importantly, the
Member’s attitudes,
convictions, and style, can help create
a speech that can be a “seamless garment”
when delivered by the Member.
Writing For The Spoken Word:
The Distinctive Task of The Speechwriter
Writing effective speeches requires a cons
tant awareness of the distinction
between the written and the spoken word:
the speechwriter must learn to “write
aloud.” While the best speeches read as
well as they sound, the novice speechwriter
should give priority to the ear and not the
eye. His or her speech must be written to
be heard, not read.
George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language,” in Shooting an Elephant and Other
Essays (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1950).
Edward Bernays, quoted in Mary G. Gotschall, “The Lost Art of Speechmaking,”
Campaigns and Elections, vo
l. 14, June-July, 1993, p. 48.
William E. Wiethoff, Writing the Speech (Greenwood, IN: Alistair Press, 1994), p. 15.
This means that easy intelligibility should
be a paramount concern, so that the
listening span is not strained. One of
the first rules of the speechwriting profession
is that a sentence written to be heard should
be simple, direct, and short. When the
speechwriter “writes aloud,”
George Orwell’s advice to cut out any word that can
possibly be cut is helpful, so long as the resulting effect is clarity, and not verbal
Ciceronian oratory on the one hand
and Dick-and-Jane simplicity on the
other are extremes to be avoided. Th
e speechwriter thus f
aces the ch
allenge of
crafting words that convey the speaker’s m
eaning clearly, but that also draw on the
rich nuance and texture of spoken English.
The average spoken sentence runs from eight to 16 words; anything longer is
considered more difficult for listeners to follow by ear, and according to one expert,
may be too long for the average listener to absorb and analyze quickly.
comparison, wr
itten sentences of up to 30 words are easily
understood by average
Given these generally accepted limitati
ons, what devices are available to
the writer to make more complex sentences and speech wording accessible to the
listener? Complex sentences can be clar
ified by repeating key words and using
simple connections. By numerous rhetorical
techniques, the speaker states, restates,
and states again in different ways, the central themes of the speech.
Repetition and Variation
Repetition with variation is a basic sp
eechwriting tool used by many of the
greatest speakers to emphasize key elem
ents while avoiding monotony. Some
examples follow.
Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech was a striking
example of this technique, using th
at phrase to introduce a series of
his visions for a better future.
Lincoln at Gettysburg emphasized the significance of the day’s
events by restating the solemnity of the occasion in not fewer than
three variations: “We cannot dedi
cate, we cannot consecrate, we
cannot hallow this ground, …”
Winston Churchill’s World War II sp
eeches used
repetition with variation to build a powerful climax: “We shall fight
in France and on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing
confidence and growing strength in
the air. We shall defend our
island whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on the beaches and
landing grounds, in fields, in streets and on the hills, … we shall
never surrender.”
Judith Humphrey, “Writing Professional Speeches,” Vital Speeches of the Day, vol. 54,
Mar. 15, 1988, p. 343.
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1937 “O
ne third of a Nation” speech
imparted a sense of urgency by his deliberate repetition of a “here
are” construction to describe c
onditions in the country, followed
again and again with “now”:
Here is one-third of a nati
on ill-nourished, ill-clad, ill-housed —
Here are thousands upon thous
ands of farmers wondering
whether next year’s prices will meet their mortgage interest —
Here are thousands upon thousands
of men and women laboring
for long hours in factories
for inadequate pay — NOW.
Cadence and Balance
Another venerable rhetorical device is
the use of cadence and balance in the
spoken word. This is a part of speechwr
iting where the speaker and the writer need
cooperation to ensure success. The trad
ition of public speaking in the English
language owes much to the poetic traditi
on, which was originally an oral tradition.
As one observer noted, “the langua
ge of the speech should also be
— replete
with alliteration, meta
phor, and other figures of speec
h. Such adornments, far from
being superfluous, enhance meaning and
emphasize relationships among ideas.”
A s
difficult to define as to achieve, cadence and balance impart movement and
harmonious effect to any speech. Essentia
lly a matter of ordering groups of words
(and ideas) into rhythmic patterns, caden
ce and balance can be attained by such
classical rhetorical devices as the ones desc
ribed below. Do not be put off by the
classic Greek names of some of these rhetorical devices; in practice we use them
naturally in conversati
on and writing every day.
Rhythmic Triads.
The grouping of words into patterns of three can lead to
a memorable effect, provided the device is
not overused. Some notable examples
from classic oratory include “
Veni, vidi, vici
”; “Never … was so much owed by so
many to so few”; “The kingdom, the power,
and the glory …”; “I have not sought, I
do not seek, I re
pudiate the s
upport of …”; “one third of a nation ill-clad, ill-
nourished, ill-housed….”
The linkage of similar words or ideas in a balanced construction
that repeatedly uses the same grammatical
form to convey para
llel or coordinated
ideas: “Bigotry has no head and cannot th
ink; no heart and ca
nnot feel;”
beareth all things, believeth
all things, hopeth all th
ings, endureth all things.”
The repetition of initial sounds in a series of words to give
emphasis. For instance, “We need to
return to that old-fashioned notion of
competition — where substance, not subsidie
s, determines the winner,” or, “… the
nattering nabobs of negativism….”

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