Are you getting ready to write a manifesto? Your creative process will be challenging and all-consuming, but you are laying out the core of your beliefs and goals — so crafting a manifesto is also one of the most rewarding things you can do. This guide is here to help get there.
Basics of Writing a Manifesto
Merriam-Webster covers all bases when the dictionary defines a manifesto as “a written statement declaring publicly the intentions, motives, or views of its issuer”, but manages to make this unique type of writing sound rather bland in the process.
In writing a manifesto, you lay out your views, aims, and vision for the future — and you ideally do so passionately, in beautiful language that makes people want to join you or at least admire you. Manifestos are written to inspire action, after all, and to get anyone to do anything, you have to get them riled up and emotional.
Are you familiar with the traditional white paper? A manifesto is, more or less, its rhetorical opposite. Where a white paper bores you half to death with technical details written in even more technical language, a manifesto should make the reader feel alive and ready to change their life — or indeed, the world.
Does a manifesto always have to be political in nature? Although the word certainly carries political connotations, the answer is a resounding “no”. Today, anyone can write a riveting manifesto, and many already have.
Are you a life hack guru who wants the world to join you on your journey to spiritual liberation through interior design, are you part of an innovative startup selling the world’s first wifi shoes, or are you a teenager laying out their life plan? Perfect. A manifesto can let other people know exactly:
- What you think, and why.
- What you want.
- How you’re going to do it, and, if applicable, why other people should join you, invest in your business, or buy your product.
How Long Should a Manifesto Be?
A manifesto is a type of pamphlet — a short work that should, according to UNESCO, be at least five pages long, but have no more than 49 pages when the front cover and back are not being counted. In the modern world, there are no hard and fast rules. If you can say what you have to say in less than five pages, or you need an entire book to cover your vision, go for it.
To keep the length of your work solidly within manifesto territory, aim for a text that’s significantly longer than a post-it note, but much shorter than Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
How to Write a Manifesto: A Step-by-Step Guide
Are you feeling overwhelmed by the thought of even getting started with your manifesto? You should be — it might be one of the most important things you will ever write. We have broken the path you can take to write an effective manifesto into more manageable chunks to make it easier for you.
Use these steps as inspiration, and tweak them to suit your personal style.
- The Brainstorming Phase
We will assume that you already have the views, aims, and solutions you need to pen a convincing manifesto — but also that you’re not sure how to best share them with the world. Get brainstorming. If your manifesto-writing efforts are collaborative, do this with your fellow writers.
As you brainstorm, it is good to escape the virtual world and work in the physical world. Manifestos can roughly be divided into three sections:
- The problem
- Why it’s important
- The solutions
You can make three or more visual boards, to which you add phrases, images, and stories you think are important to include in your manifesto. Manifestos appeal to emotions, and this part of the process can help you get clarity on where you are going.
Once you have the basics down, you may want to create a rough outline.
- Market Research
It’s helpful to conduct some market research to gauge how your manifesto may be received even before you start penning a draft. If you’re writing a personal manifesto, just for you, you can obviously skip this step, but it’s crucial for companies, pressure groups, charities, and political organizations who are determined to publish a manifesto. Your market research will help you learn more about how to convey the feelings you are aiming for.
- Drafting Your Manifesto
If you are truly passionate about the ideas presented in your manifesto, writing the draft may be a lot easier than you initially think. As you write, make sure that your manifesto flows well, presenting your ideas and aims in a coherent manner.
Keep a notebook on you at all times, because you never know when the phrase your manifesto could be remembered for will burst forth from your mind. You don’t want to forget impactful words!
- Editing Your Manifesto
Unless you are crafting a personal manifesto, this should never be a one-person affair. Get feedback and creative input from as many people as possible. A professional editor can help, but since your manifesto is your baby, you should be involved every step of the way. Manifestos inevitably highlight problem areas, but to be most effective, make sure to end on a positive note, with a powerful call to action.
- Get Feedback
Think you’re done writing? Get feedback from beta readers, existing customers, or members of the target group, before you publish your manifesto.
- Don’t Forget About Graphics and Images
This isn’t the 18th Century. Graphics now often form an integral part of powerful manifestos, and we’re not just talking about the front cover. Marketing manifestos are littered with beautiful, compelling, images throughout.
Examples of Important Manifestos
Are you looking for some inspiration? Check out this famous manifestos:
- Benjamin Franklin’s 13 Life Virtues constitute a powerful personal manifesto.
- Because it’s nearly impossible to talk about manifestos without mentioning the Manifesto of the Communist Party, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, we’ll just get it out the way.
- The Sustainable Web Manifesto is a fierce example of a modern activist manifesto that uses an online format. Short as it is, every word throws a punch, like “if the internet was a country, it would be the 7th largest polluter”.
- The Holstee Manifesto is a prime example of a very short commercial manifesto. It’s so wildly successful that countless people who have little idea what Holstee does have come across it, and found it inspirational. Apple’s Here to the Crazy Ones falls into a similar category.
- Turn to Greta Thunberg’s No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference (better known as “our house is on fire”) if you’re looking for a manifesto with a political and activist slant.
Tips to Help You Write a Great Manifesto
You’re already on the right track, but you’re worried that your manifesto isn’t quite as effective as you’d like it to be? Take a look at these tips, and see where you could do better:
- Don’t ramble. Manifestos are meant to be short — if you can say the same thing in fewer words, you should.
- Don’t rely on industry jargon. Manifestos are meant to be accessible. Make sure everyone can understand what you’re talking about, ideally after just one reading.
- Do allow the beauty of language to unfold on your pages. Whether you’re delivering a verbal punch in the gut or making butterflies dance in your reader’s mind, a manifesto is an unmissable opportunity to play with words. Does it border on poetry? Good.
- Do, always, end with a call to action. Your reader liked the journey you took them on? Awesome. Tell them how they can get more.
Does the word “manifesto” carry negative connotations? Should I avoid it?
A manifesto is simply a term to denote a fairly short piece of writing used to convey your opinions, goals, and vision. The content of your manifesto will determine how it is received. Today, the word “manifesto” is quickly becoming associated with hip and innovative businesses.
Should my manifesto be published in print?
That is up to you. Some manifestos exist entirely online, like the Sustainable Web Manifesto we talked about already. TV commercials may, if they have the right vibe, be considered a manifesto. Text-based graphic design posters can, as in the case of the Holstee Manifesto, be received as a manifesto.
How is a manifesto different from a mission statement?
A mission statement tells the world what your aim is, but a manifesto inspires action. Herein lies the main difference between the two.