Understanding the writing process

Excerpt from Harness the Business Writing Process

The writing process, as outlined in the last post, consists of five elements. Here is a closer look at each one. 

Preparation

  • establish your primary purpose (why you are writing)
  • assess your readers (or audience) and their expectations and awareness of the issue(s) about which you are writing
  • determine the detail into which you must go to achieve your purpose
  • select the appropriate medium for delivering your words

Research

  • determine if the research will be internal, external or a combination
  • find appropriate sources of information
  • take notes and document external sources

Organization

  • select an appropriate method of development so that your writing unfolds in a logical manner
  • prepare an outline, breaking down your document into manageable chunks
  • consider your layout, design and visuals (illustrations, graphs, charts)

Writing

  • write from outline point to point, using each point like the opening line in a directed freefall; expand each point into sentences and/or paragraphs
  • write with spell check and grammar check turned off
  • complete a first draft, or a full section of longer documents, before revising
  • write the introductions and conclusions of longer documents last

Revision

  • revise with the reader and subject matter in mind to ensure the tone is appropriate for both
  • revise to ensure your document is clear, concise and focused and supports your purpose
  • check spelling and grammar
  • peer edit if possible

Paul Lima is a freelance writer and business writing trainer. You can read more about him online.

 

 

Follow the writing process

Excerpt from Harness the Business Writing Process

There are five steps in the writing process:  Preparation – Research – Organization – Writing – Revision.

The time required to complete each step varies depending on the nature of the project. For instance, if you are a subject matter expert, you might not have to spend any time on external research. If you write a particular type of document regularly, you might not have to spend much time on preparation; you might even have a template you fill in each time you write.

When writing a formal report, you will spend more time preparing, researching and organizing. You might even have to produce a formal outline (an integral component of organization) for approval before you start to write. As you write, section by section, you might discover gaps in your knowledge and have to conduct more research and incorporate new material into your outline. When you complete your first draft, you will probably spend considerable time revising to ensure that your writing is as clear, concise and focused as it can be, and that all points covered in the report reinforce your purpose and conclusion or any recommendations that you have made.

Effective and efficient

If you follow the writing process, you will become a more effective and efficient writer.

Efficient writers spend time planning (preparation, research and organization) before they write. In addition, they allocate time for editing (revising and proofreading). This leads to the writing of effective documents, documents that achieve specific and clearly defined purposes.

Less efficient writers tend to spend more time overall on projects even though they spend less time planning. They also edit as they write, which is to say they write, tinker, write, revise, write, correct little errors and so on. This is not a productive way to write and, because less efficient writers don’t plan what they want to write, they end up with less satisfactory, or less effective, results.

It may seem ironic to say that you can become more efficient if you spend more time planning. However, the time you invest up front in preparation, research and organization pays dividends when it comes time to write and revise.

Think of writing as a trip. If you plan your trip, you are less likely to get lost and more likely to arrive on time. That does not mean you cannot meander as you travel. You can. However, if you meander and your side trip takes you nowhere, you will find it easier to get back on track because you have a road map or, in the case of writing, a process that includes a detailed outline.

 

Paul Lima is a freelance writer and business writing trainer. You can read more about him online.

 

 

Answer W5 before you write your next email

An excerpt on email writing from Harness the Business Writing Process and from Harness the Email Writing Process:

I know those who primarily write short messages sometimes feel that following the writing process will add significantly to the time they spend writing email messages. With that in mind, I want to show you the W5 email-writing shortcut.

When you take the short-cut, you will still follow the writing process — that’s crucial to becoming an effective writer. However, by answering the W5—who, what, where, when and why (and sometimes how or hoW, making it a W6)—you will shortcut the full and formal process.

W5 preparation, research and organization

When writing short documents, such as email messages, you can reduce the first three steps of the writing process — preparation, research and organization — to a few minutes using the W5 shortcut. You then write your message, edit it and click send.

W5 is the foundation of journalism. Answers to the W5 are used to outline the lead or opening paragraphs of any news article. Journalists, in fact, will tell you they do not start writing any article until they have answers to the W5 in place. There are times journalists find multiple W5 elements or need more than the basic W5 points before they write. There are times when they do not use all the W5 points they find. Either way, W5 is the place where they start. I am suggesting that W5 should be the foundation of all business writing as well — especially short email messages.

At minimum, answering the W5 questions allows you to think about these points:

– Who: your audience and your relationship to the audience (reader)
– What: your topic or subject
– Why: your purpose
– What: details reader requires to understand your topic and purpose
– How: you got to the current state; you can solve or take advantage of the issue or opportunity
– What, when, where and how: any action, feedback or reply that should take place

Once you’ve answered the W5 questions, you can take these steps:
– review your answers and decide what you will include and what you will exclude when writing your message
– arrange points in the order in which you will address them—outline
– write from point to point
– revise as may be required
– hit send

In short, answering the W5 questions lets you prepare, conduct internal research and organize your thoughts before you write.

What are readers looking for?

As you answer the W5, I suggest that you do it in a reader-centric manner. Think about what your readers are looking for and expecting. This would probably be the same thing you are looking for when you receive an email:
– subject line that captures attention
– purpose, clearly stated in the opening paragraph: what the message is about and why it is being written
– well-organized, clear, concise, focused writing that maintains interest (is related to your purpose)
– message length that is appropriate for the topic and purpose of the message; in email, most messages are one to five paragraphs in length
– closing paragraph that lets readers know if any action is required; if so, who takes it, by when, where and possibly how
– proper tone in relation to the message and your audience

With that in mind, let’s go through the W5 process for several email messages and do some writing. There are some sample email messages in Appendix One [of the books]; however, try the exercises below before you read the sample messages.

Thank-you note

I’d like you to think of someone to whom you owe a thank-you note or whom you would like to thank for a personal or business kindness. Before you do the exercise, make sure you have the name of the person in mind and that you know what that person did to earn your thanks.

Once you are ready, write point-form answers to the questions below on a sheet of paper or in a word processing file. I’ve included multiple W5 questions, most likely more than you’d ask if you were to do this on your own. However, I want to take you through the full writing process, including what to leave in and what to leave out (when organizing the points you want to make), before you write. To begin, answer the following questions:
– Whom do you want to thank? (Name the person and note that person’s relationship to you.)
– Why do you want to thank him or her?
– What did that person do; what action did that person take?
– Where did it take place? When did it take place? How did it take place?
– What benefit did you derive from the action?
– What was your primary feeling or emotion?
– What overt action, if any, do you want the recipient to take? When and where should it take place? How should it take place?
– How should the recipient let you know she is taking action?
– What, if any, is your covert agenda (also known as your hidden agenda)?

Once you have answered the W5 questions, continue to read.

You probably think that you can write a simple thank-you note without answering the W5 questions first. You most likely can. This is just an exercise to take you through the W5 process. At the same time, I want you to know that your brain is going to try to answer the questions, with or without your active participation. It is ineffective, however, to have your brain thinking about answers to those questions as you are writing and editing. That is why we answer the questions before we write.

What you did when answering the W5

When you answered the above W5 questions, you went through the writing process. Specifically, here is what you did:

– established your primary purpose: why you were writing
– assessed audience: who they are, what they did, where/when they did it
– determined details you might include: how you felt, what benefit you derived, what action you want the reader to take
– conducted internal research: used memory as the source of information

After jotting down point-form notes in answer to the questions, you are almost organized. In fact, you probably have more information than you want to use in your final email message. Part of getting organized, however, is deciding what to include and what to exclude. Many writers will tell you that having more information than needed is a good place to be because it lets you think about what you need to say and don’t need to say. This helps you focus your message.

If you are working on paper, highlight the points you want to address in your thank-you note. Once you have completed your highlighting, transfer your points to a word processing document. If you are working on your computer, copy and paste your research into a new file. Delete any points you don’t have to express. (Save your original research in case you delete material that you later decide you need. This way, you will have it handy rather than having to recreate it.) 

Decide where you are going to start, but keep in mind that readers want to know why (your purpose) you are writing. In other words, get to your purpose—“thank you”—in that first paragraph. Don’t wait until the end of your message to achieve your purpose.
Once you jot down a purpose point, jot down all the other points you want to make in the order you feel you should make them. Remember, you get to decide what to leave in and what to leave out. With that, you have prepared an outline so that your writing will unfold in a focused, logical manner.

Write and then revise
Since this is a short thank-you note, you don’t have to consider layout or design. You can simply write from outline point to outline point, expanding each point into sentences and paragraphs, as required. Write with spell check and grammar check turned off so that you can focus on writing your email message instead of editing it (the last part of the writing process) as you write.
When you have your outline ready, write your thank-you note.

Once you have completed the first draft of your thank-you note, review your work. Ensure that each paragraph contains no more than one significant point or ensure that the points contained in each paragraph are directly related. (See Creating Paragraphs in either book.)

Revise your draft keeping your reader, topic and purpose in mind. Ensure that the tone is appropriate to the subject and that your document is clear, concise and focused, and supports your purpose. Then check spelling and grammar. Finally, add a subject line. Think of your subject line as an attention-grabbing headline. The subject line does not have to be in-your-face to grab attention. It should be tone-appropriate and allude to your purpose.

It is possible, even probable, that the entire process took longer than it would have taken you to just sit down and write the thank-you note off the top of your head. I hope, though, that the note you have written is as effective as, if not more effective than, the note you would have written had you just started with a blank screen. This process will help you write much more effective business email. In addition, the more you practice this process, the less time it will take to prepare, research and outline short messages before writing them.

You will spend less time writing if you are prepared, have completed your research and have a detailed outline in front of you. That makes you more efficient. The more prepared you are, the more complete your research is, the more detailed the outline is, the more effective your writing will be. The more effective (concise and focused) your writing is, the less time you will spend revising. But none of this will happen magically. It will only happen if you practice the five-step writing process—in the case of email, if you practice the W5 process.

 [Note: the books take you through several more writing exercises and include sample email messages that have followed the W5 process.]

This excerpt on email writing is from Harness the Business Writing Process and Harness the Email Writing Process

 

 

Create an outline before you write

An excerpt on Creating Outlines from Harness the Business Writing Process:

Clustering is the first step in getting organized, before you write. The next step is to create an outline, part of the writing process. Producing an outline before you write will help you write in a more effective and efficient manner. In addition, if you are wondering why you have to go through all of this to write a simple email message, please stick with me. I am showing you the full, formal writing process now. I will show you a writing process shortcut that you can apply to most email messages (in the next blog post).

To create an outline after clustering, you have to move from right-brain (creative) thinking to left-brain (linear) thinking.

After clustering, take a highlighter to your spider’s web of words and highlight any words and phrases that you want to write about in your document. Remember, at this point, you have already thought about your topic, audience and purpose, so you should have a good sense of who you are writing for and why you are writing. Therefore, you can highlight words and phrases that relate to your subject matter, audience and purpose.

Once you have highlighted appropriate words and phrases, you place them in a list to create a rough outline of your document. You review and revise it—put the topics in the order you think you should write about them. Again, this is based on your purpose, audience and scope (the degree of detail expected by your audience or required to achieve your purpose). Also, you consider the deliverable (email, letter, report, Power-Point presentation and so on) that you are producing.

Review your ordered list and do some in-filling by adding any other topic points or subtopic points, you feel may be missing. Remove any points that are not relevant and you are almost there.

Why create an outline?
Does this feel like work? Most people think it does and there is a valid reason for the feeling. It is work. But what’s the alternative? You can, of course, try to fill the blank page with sentences that will make sense to your audience and help you achieve your purpose. However, guess what happens when you try to do that? Your brain tries to write well—to write coherent, well-constructed sentences and paragraphs produced in a logical order—and to spell correctly and follow the rules of grammar. As it is trying to do all of that, it tries to keep track of what you have written, what you are writing and what you still need to write.

Now your brain is a remarkable organ; it can do all of that, more or less. What I am suggesting you do here is relieve your brain of some of this workload by creating an outline—a formal list of all the points you need to cover placed in the order you feel you should write about them. An outline brings focus and logical order to your document. It liberates your brain and lets you concentrate on writing from point to point in a clear, concise manner. Your brain won’t have to remember what you have written while thinking about what you are writing and what you still have to write. If you follow the writing process, which lists editing as the final component, you also free your brain from thinking about grammar and spelling on the first draft.

With all this liberated brainpower available, you can focus on making your writing as effective as possible. Isn’t that your primary goal—to write as effectively as possible? Do it, from outline point to outline point.

This has been an excerpt on Creating Outlines from Harness the Business Writing Process

Overcoming your inner critic when writing

[Excerpt from Harness the Business Writing Process by Paul Lima — http://www.paullima.com/books%5D

We all have an internal critic harping at us to get our writing right. At the same time, it’s just so darned difficult to remember all the picayune and inconsistent rules of English.

My internal critic is Mr. C, my grade five teacher. Mr. C took his task of teaching me perfect spelling and grammar seriously by wielding his red marker like the sword of Zorro, forcefully cutting huge red gashes across my mistakes. …

In grade five, students were supposed to graduate from pencil to pen during the year—as their spelling, grammar, and penmanship improved. But Mr. C made me use a pencil all year because I could not spell well or write neatly. I only received my pen on the last day of class. Mr. C tossed it at me and said, “Here, Lima, you’ll need this next year. Good luck!”

Of course, Mr. C was right. My writing was messy. For whatever reason, I could not remember most of the rules, and when I did manage to remember some of them, I could not remember the exceptions. When you can’t spell well, you try to hide the fact, which is why my penmanship was so poor. For instance, when you don’t know if it’s i before e, you make a chubby i and a skinny e and put the dot right in the middle and hope to fool the teacher!

Battling Mr. C
I battle Mr. C when I attempt to master the art and craft of writing—even when writing business documents. Today, however, when he rears his fearsome head, I say, “Get thee behind me!” And I keep on writing through typos and grammatical errors. Through incomplete sentences and incorrect words. I write until I have finished an error-filled first draft, and then I laugh in his face. Because I have learned that writing is a process.

If you look at the process, you will see that in the first step, you prepare to write. Then you conduct your research—internal and/or external, depending on the scope of the project, your readers’ expectations, and your knowledge or mastery of the topic. Then you get organized. Only then do you write. And while you are writing, you do not need to revise, edit, or proofread.

In other words, it is okay to make mistakes when you write because the process allows you to correct them when you finish your first draft. 

If you do not follow the process, Mr. C will trip you up every time. He will get you revising and editing when you should be creating. He will cause you to waste time proofreading work that is not even at the first draft stage. He will have you feeling inadequate because you are planning instead of actually writing something—as if it were illegal, immoral, or unethical to think before you write. In short, if you allow your internal critic to dominate you, you will feel frustrated and your writing will suffer.

Read an overview of the writing process here:
https://sixfigurefreelancer.wordpress.com/2013/12/03/the-writing-process-overview/ 

[Paul Lima is a freelance writer, business-writing trainer and the author of a dozen books on business and promotional writing, self-publishing and the business of freelance writing. Learn more about Paul, or read about his books, at http://www.paullima.com.]

The Writing Process – overview

There are five steps in the writing process:

– Preparation
– Research
– Organization
– Writing
– Revision

As you read about the process, you might find yourself thinking that if you have to go through the entire process every time you write something, it will take you forever to write anything. However, the time required to complete each step varies depending on the nature of the project. For instance, if you are a subject matter expert, you might not have to spend any time on external research. If you write a particular type of document regularly, you might not have to spend much time on preparation; you might even have a template you fill in each time you write.

When writing an article, case study, media release, report or proposal, however, you will spend much more time preparing, researching and organizing. You might even have to produce a formal outline (an integral component of organization) for approval before you start to write. As you write, you might discover some gaps in your knowledge and have to conduct more research and incorporate new material into your outline. When you complete your first draft, you will probably spend considerable time revising to ensure that your writing is as clear, concise, and focused as it can be, and that all points covered in the work reinforce your purpose or reason for writing.

You might have to send your document to an editor or a superior, or even a committee, for feedback and approval. The person reviewing the work will most likely make suggestions and send it back to you for revision. That is to be expected and is all part of the writing process when someone has to approve your work before it goes out the door.

Effective and Efficient
Let’s say that following the writing process means you spend a bit more time producing a document. Allow me to ask you this: Would you rather take a little longer to write a document that achieves what you want to achieve, or take less time and not achieve your purpose? I presume you would rather do the former. If you do not achieve your purpose when you communicate, what’s the point of communicating?

Having said that, I believe that following the writing process will make you a more effective and efficient writer. Most of us get hung up on correct spelling and grammar before we even complete a first draft. That inhibits the process. Spelling and grammar count (although writers sometimes break the rules for effect). But spelling and grammar are the last elements of the process. Efficient writers spend time planning (preparation, research, and organization) before they write. They allocate time for editing (revising and proofreading) after they have written. This leads to producing effective documents—documents that achieve specific purposes. Or, as one University of Toronto study found:

Efficient writers spend 40% of their time planning (preparation, research and organization), 25% writing and 35% revising.

Less-efficient writers spend more time overall on projects and distribute their time differently: 20% planning, 60% writing (tinkering, writing, tinkering), and 20% revising, tinkering, revising.

Less efficient writers don’t plan what they want to write and end up with less satisfactory, or less effective, results. It may seem counterintuitive to say that you can become more efficient if you spend more time planning. However, the time you invest up front in preparation, research and organization pays dividends when it comes time to write.

Think of writing as a trip. If you plan your trip, you are less likely to get lost and more likely to arrive on time. That does not mean you cannot meander as you travel. You can. However, if you meander and your side trip takes you nowhere, you will find it easier to get back on track because you have a road map or, in the case of writing, a process that includes a detailed outline.

[The Writing Process is detailed in many of Paul Lima’s book on business and promotional writing, and writing articles, media releases and social media content. Read more about Paul’s books: http://www.paullima.com/books.%5D