From my own professional experience I know the obstacles faced by development organizations and agricultural journalists who try to bring the most recent insights of agricultural research and experience to rural communities in tropical and sub-tropical regions.
Experience capitalization is an extremely important initiative. I have been involved in experiences relating to small-scale rural agriculture and the livelihoods of farming communities since I worked as an agricultural historian at the University of Zambia in the late 1970’s. Now, as I see how that once rich Zambian agricultural economy is suffering under the impact of climate change induced floods and droughts I realise how important it is to exchange experiences that can encourage viable and sustainable agricultural change in rural production and marketing.
The experience capitalization initiative is not only a critically important way of dealing with these obstacles but, as I saw in Arusha, it also stimulates discussion, learning and innovation. The outcome of the experience capitalization workshops – the stories – provide agricultural agencies, extensionists and the mainstream and digital media with facts and ideas that can have a positive effect on the agricultural practices and marketing activities of smallholder farmers.
But to make sure that these messages reach a wider readership, those writing have to be aware that there are certain standard publishing “rules”. When I was editing the stories prepared by those who attended the workshop in Arusha last March, I realised it would be a good idea that at every experience capitalization workshop time was allocated to discussing how to write in such a way that the readers being targeted can easily follow and understand the project’s approach and impact.
A few suggestions
I came up with the following suggestions that could be included in such a “writing session”. First, try to imagine you are writing for someone who has never been to your country – they don’t know where it is or anything about its geography, the physical conditions or why this specific project location was chosen. Without going into too much detail you could provide, for example, a political map showing country and county boundaries, towns and roads as well as a physical map showing altitude, rivers and lakes. Make sure the maps have a key and that names and other words on the map you’ve chosen can be easily read. Don’t forget to give the map a good title!
Good clear photographs, as well as other visual material, are also really important. Often a photograph of a project activity can give the reader more insight into and feeling for what is going on than hundreds of words. Also, make sure there are captions that explain, in just a few words, what is being shown in the picture.
And then remember not everyone is totally familiar with the English language. So keep it simple – not too many technical and abstract words, for example. Nice short sentences also increase readability but I know from how I write that this can be difficult!!! Also make sure you explain every abbreviation.
I found the experience capitalization table the team uses a very useful way of categorizing the factual material relevant to the project being discussed. I would, therefore, like to suggest that the headings used in the Table could be used as paragraph headings.
And now as an editor I would like to include some of the style rules most commonly used in international English language publications. The following short “style guide” is based on the rules being used by those preparing articles for publication that cover subjects like those being dealt with in the experience capitalization initiative.
Experience capitalization: style guide
- Structure of the article: use experience capitalization Table headings
- Strategy (including components such as activities/materials/resources)
- Unexpected results
- Editing style
- Use International English (not the US variety or UK jargon)
- Abbreviations fully explained when first used
- Numbers 1-10 in words afterwards in all numbers in figures
- Decimal point eg 23.50 not 23,50
- Italics for organizations, institutions and titles of publications
- After giving an amount in local currency put the US dollar equivalent in brackets after it
- Short sentences and limited use of technical and complex words unless these are explained, or are clear from the context
Now, success with the further documentation of the experiences of your organization and if you need editing help or have any questions just get in touch.