“Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your head.” Gene Fowler
Nearly everybody finds it hard to write at some time. Next time that happens to you, try this process.
Write down the answers to these questions. Don’t just think about these questions – writing brings clarity.
Who is your audience? – characteristics, attitudes? What is important to them?
What do you want them to do? Do you want them to understand something or do something?
What information do they need? What do they need to know? When?
Gather all the bits and pieces that you think may need to go into the document. You could use mind mapping or just start writing randomly.
Don’t worry about word choice, grammar or spelling.
Don’t worry about sequence
Don’t try to work out details
Use diagrams, shapes or symbols – not just words
Don’t be neat
Organise and shape
There are no hard and fast rules about organising. You cannot organise until you know what it is that needs putting in order. So be wary of templates – they can be useful, but they may also restrict your thinking.
Answering these questions will help you organise your document.
How will the reader discover this information?
Will they be looking for an answer to a specific question they have, or just reading for interest?
What are they likely to be doing when they encounter this information?
What will the reader do with the information?
Do they need to follow a procedure you are describing?
Do they need to combine this information with other information? Where will they get this from?
How can this be organised in a way that makes sense to my reader?
How are the ideas related? (usually, it is best to start with the ‘big picture’ before moving into detail)
What do my readers already know about this topic?
How can I organise this into less than 7 ‘chunks’? (Use headings to separate the chunks, use paragraphs to further organise the chunks.)
What can I safely leave out? (Readers find it tiresome to wade through text that has no relevance to their interest or needs.)
Write, edit and revise
There is no such thing as good writing, only good re-writing!
- Get straight to the point.
- Use words familiar to your reader.
- Keep sentences short and simple. Each sentence should cover only one point.
- Use the active voice and avoid the passive voice.
- Write directly to your audience i.e. use ‘we’ and ‘you’.
- Use verbs (action words), not nouns made from verbs.
- Use simple, short words.
Readers are the only people who can tell you whether your writing is good or bad. If possible, test your document on a sample of your target audience. Ask them questions to see if you have effectively conveyed your message.