There is a very close relationship between writing well and thinking well. You cannot write well until you think well.
The relationship with thinking is what excites me about writing.
When we write (and this could be a few words or even a diagram) we take the fuzzy, unformed ideas sitting in the back of our heads and make them explicit. We put them on a page or a screen. When we see our thoughts on paper, we are better able to interact with ideas, and thinking becomes richer and clearer.
The think-write-think process helps us figure out the best way of explaining ideas to others – we talk to ourselves and other people with greater clarity.
Poor writing is often the result of poor thinking. Ideas may be there, but if they haven’t been worked over and refined by writing and re-writing, they are unlikely to be understood by people other than the writer.
The close relationship between writing and thinking means that every time you write something, you are exposing your thinking. That may be an uncomfortable thought. People may make judgements about your thinking capability based on the text you generate.
It’s all the more reason to strive to write plainly and clearly, so that readers can see through your words to interact with your ideas.
Placing your content in the correct order makes a big impact on the effectiveness of your document.
Before designing a structure for your document
- define the purpose of your document – what you want to achieve
- understand your readers – what they want and need
If your purpose is to persuade or share information and your readers are likely to give you a fair hearing, then a ‘point first’ structure is often the best. (sometimes called a pyramid or telescoping structure.)
A ‘point first’ structure starts with your key point. You follow this with explanation, reasoning and detail that justifies and expands the point.
Readers find this structure easy to follow; it’s always easier to grasp an argument when you are told the conclusion first. It also allows readers to stop reading when they have had enough without missing your main point.
But if your readers are likely to resist your message, then you may need to walk them through your reasoning and research before telling them your conclusion.
Documents aimed to persuade, a business case for example, are often structured by talking about the problem or opportunity first. This highlights the motivation for change and sets the scene for your solution.
When writing procedures, consider starting with the overall aim or intent of the procedure (to give clear context and purpose) and then present the steps in chronological order.
An effective document structure is one where readers can quickly understand and use the information you provide.