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A Gut Check on Youth Voice

Posted on August 11, 2020
By Lisa Attygalle

How do we write in a way that is appealing to youth? How do we get them to pay attention?  

As much as I think we can all learn a lot to make our writing more accessible, I think first, we need a gut check on who’s doing the writing anyway. 

Provide a platform for youth to speak --> Do this whenever possible 

In a recent youth roundtable, I was facilitating, a student shared an analogy that I will never forget. We were talking about how the city can do a better job engaging youth. The student shared, “To be honest, I’d rather go to an event that was put on by someone my age. As much as I love my grandma, I don’t really want to go to her party.” She then apologized for being so blunt.  

I love what she shared. It’s a helpful reminder to all of us who are seeking to expand youth voice. Put youth in a position to speak, to write, to organize, to lead. 

photo-of-man-writing-on-notebookProvide mentorship. Provide resources. Be their ally. 
Involve youth in the process --> Do this as a great next option 

Writing a guide? Hosting an event? Build it together with youth. Hire youth to co-develop it. Ask youth what is most important for them. Use focus groups to check in with youth. Survey a larger group to find out their priorities. Get feedback on drafts throughout the process. Ask youth – what would make this appealing? 

Be flexible. Be keen to change the product when you learn what would make it better.  

Design/write with youth in mind --> Always necessary 

Youth are intelligent. Empathetic. Never speak down, get preachy, or oversimplify your content. Use stories rather than directives. After writing, take a thorough edit to make it more accessible and compelling to youth: 

  • Remove all jargon, acronyms, and use plain language 

  • Default to a less formal, conversational tone. Does anyone love academic writing anyway?  

  • Break up sections – assume your readers may be scanning. Grab their attention with clear and interesting sub-heads 

  • Shorten it – Delete anything that isn’t 100 percent relevant or important. Delete superfluous words. Edit sentences to get to the point quicker. 

  • For every sentence ask: Why is that important? Make it clear. Be transparent. 

Then think about format. Is it easy to navigate? What would make it appealing to look at? What would keep a reader engaged? 
I tend to think that any tips for writing for a youth audience are really just good tips for writing in general. If our goal is to connect, let’s do everything we can to understand the audience. 

Community Engagement, Lisa Attygalle, Youth, Communities Building Youth Futures

Lisa Attygalle

By Lisa Attygalle

In her role at Tamarack, Lisa works with cities and organizations to improve the way they engage with their communities. Over the last seven years her work has focused on creating engagement strategies for municipalities and organizations, integrated communications planning, and the use of technology and creativity for engagement. Lisa constantly advocates for simplicity in infrastructure, frameworks and design and loves applying the principles of marketing, advertising, loyalty, and user experience to community initiatives. -- Au Tamarack Institute, Lisa travaille avec les villes et les organisations afin qu’elles améliorent leur façon de mobiliser leur communauté. Au cours des sept dernières années, son travail s’est concentré sur l’élaboration de stratégies de mobilisation pour les municipalités et les organisations, la planification intégrée des communications, et l’utilisation de la technologie et de la créativité pour mobiliser les gens. Lisa est partisane de la simplicité en ce qui concerne les infrastructures, les cadres de travail et la conception. De plus, elle adore appliquer les principes de la mercatique, de la publicité, de la fidélisation et de l’expérience utilisateur aux initiatives communautaires.

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