In honour of the Sloan-C unconference workshop I’m running this week, I have been working on a list of tips for making a manifesto. Suggestions for additions are welcome!
1. Forget about being nice. A manifesto isn’t the place for seeing both sides of the argument. If you don’t have a clear story you want to tell, or a case you want to make, a manifesto probably isn’t the right format. If you do have that story, tell it as strongly as you can. This is (at least) half the enjoyment of writing like this. An especially useful strategy (thanks to Sian for this one) is this: if you get stuck, try to articulate what you are repudiating. Repudiating is not only great fun, it will help you to be bold. Ideally, you can come back later and change some of the points from the negative “do not do…” to the positive.
2. Word choice matters. Take time to consider the meanings of the words you are using, and to find the best one for the point you want to make. In a short piece of writing like a manifesto, every word counts, so be as precise as you can.
3. One idea per statement. Don’t try to say too much in each point. If it feels long or complicated, can you split it up into more than one statement?
4. Be brief. For maximum impact, points that are tweet-sized will be easiest to share.
5. Aim for conversation, not (necessarily) consensus. A lot of a manifesto’s value is in how it allows its authors to articulate a shared position. But the shared territory (especially in a big group) will never be absolute or unconditional. In that sense, a manifesto works best as a conversation starter, an object for discussion and debate, and a provisional set of statements that represent a moment in time, a set of circumstances, and a group of people. In other words, be bold (see point 1), but hold it lightly.