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Plan your writing – it saves time!

July 29, 2010

If you want to protect your railings from the elements, you have to spend time preparing the surface and getting the old rust off before you paint. Otherwise, one hard winter will be enough to make all the new paint to peel off and you will have wasted your time.

If you want results when you write, you have to think about your intended outcome and your readers before you hit the keyboard. The result will be that your readers are more likely to act as you wanted them to when they read the finished article. Surprisingly enough, good quality planning often helps to do the whole job more quickly as well.

Here are a few tips for planning reports and other complex documents – don’t use them all but choose one or two that look useful.

Readership analysis
Think about your intended readership for two or three minutes. Write down everything about them that affects the way they will read your document. For example:

    How much do they already know about this subject?
    What is their technical background?
    Are they internal or external to my organisation?
    What is their relationship to me or to the company?
    How are they likely to react to my message?

Ask yourself what you want to happen as a result of your reader reading your document. Are they going to:

    make the right decision?
    send you some information that you need?
    feel reassured?

It is very important to be clear in your mind about this. The alternative is often that you waste time writing perfectly formed sentences before you realise that you are heading in the wrong direction.

Here is an example. A delegate on one of my courses recently described the purpose of her report as “to choose the right software for our database”. First, the report cannot choose anything. It can provide the information that enables someone to make a decision. Second, it turned out after some discussion that the decision about the software had already been made and her purpose was in fact to justify the expenditure to the board.

Mind maps
These are excellent for getting your ideas down in a structured way with some hierarchy. If you have very little idea how to approach your subject, start with a mind map. Personally, I draw them on paper, but if you want to share them with colleagues, you may prefer to use software. Smartdraw is free – but google mind mapping and you will find plenty of choice. If you don’t know what a mind map is, look at the explanation on Mindtools.

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