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Simple Framing

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Below is a brief summary of some of the best known basic framing check lists. Today there are a growing number of basic framing guides available on and offline, as well as versions focused on specific issues or more in-depth advice and theory. For more in depth framing sources, see the section on this site entitled More Framing Resources.

I.George Lakoff and The Rockridge Institute

Today's most widely read basic framing guide is George Lakoff's 2004 paperback book, Don' t Think of an Elephant. In it he expands on advice that used to be available at the Rockridge Institute web site under the title, 'Simple Framing.' (The site went down in May, 2009.) Here is a highly condensed version of this approach:

  • Be clear on your own values.

  • Use the language of values, not of facts or statistics.

  • Think strategically in terms of large moral goals.

  • Unite and cooperate with other kinds of issue-based progressives whose values you share.

  • Be proactive.

  • Speak to the progressive base and to swing voters who share some of your values.

    (See pages Don't Think of An Elephant, pp. 33-34, 100, 105, and 155-119 for more details on framing technique.)

II. The SPIN Project 


The SPIN Project works to empower and train nonprofit issue based organizations to be effective with the media. The organization puts on the national SPIN Academy trainings, and publishes books and pamphlets to assist its constituency, among other activities. Below is a brief summary of things to consider when framing, adapted from Spin Project founder Robert Bray's article in SPIN's Loud and Clear in an Election Year (2004):

  • Ask yourself 'What is the issue ‚Äòabout'?' Be sure to define it as broadly as possible, so that it appeals to the core values of the community, and its sense of what is important.

  • Ask yourself 'Who is affected by the issue?' Again, define this as broadly as possible, both in terms of how many people will be affected, and what the scope of the issue is.

  • Define your frame so that people know who are the good guys are and who the villains are.

  • Look for current news hooks on which to hang your frame, to make it timely and appealing.

  • Keep in mind values 'that uphold democratic principles and decency, that indicate what we believe in, what we stand for, and what kind of society we want to live in.'

  • To communicate your frame most effectively, find out what images, metaphors, and symbols will work best with your audience.

         More valuable resources on basic framing are on the SPIN Project website.

III. SmartMeme Strategy and Training Project:


SmartMeme builds movements and amplifies the impact of grassroots organizing with new strategy and training resources, values-based communication tools and meme campaigning (viral idea campaigning). They place great emphasis on narrative in messaging and seek to replace the 'story of the battle' with the 'battle of the story,' making special outreach to young organizers. Below is a greatly abbreviated summary of suggestions co-founders Ilyse Hogue and Patrick Reinsborough make in their 2004 article on framing in Loud and Clear in an Election Year:

      -Identify the conflict you want to highlight.

      -Make sure your messenger or hero is sympathetic.

      -Show, don't tell. Try asking a question.

      -Offer a positive vision.

      -Make clear how your story speaks truth to power

       More valuable resources are available on the SmartMeme site.

V. Andy Goodman, Storytelling as Best Practice, (Second Edition)


Goodman is the ultimate 'go to guy' on how to use the power of all kinds of stories in framing our messages. His Web site, newsletter (freerange thinking), and his book, Storytelling as Best Practice, are invaluable resources and impossible to summarize. don't miss them.