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Think Before You Write

In Effective Communication, Marketing Communications, Writing on June 14, 2011 at 2:39 pm

When you face an important writing task, do you find yourself putting it off until the last minute because you don’t know how to tackle it? Or do you begin immediately only to delete more words than you save? Both approaches can be time consuming and frustrating.

To be more effective and efficient, think of writing as a thought process that requires a great deal of work before you can successfully put words on paper. Refrain from the temptation to rush the process and begin writing before you are ready. Instead, gather facts, connect ideas and understand the message you want to convey to your readers before you begin to write.

The writing process can be used successfully whether you are crafting a brief letter or a lengthy report. Follow these steps to successful writing:

  1. Understand your assignment. Think about your goal, audience and format. Consider what you want your written piece to achieve, such as voicing an opinion, persuading your readers to take action or sharing information. Understand your audience, including their level of interest and understanding of your topic. Finally, consider the format of your writing, such as a brief email message, a major report or a 140-character tweet.
  2. Brainstorm. Once you understand your assignment, think about the type of information that should be included. Ask yourself the traditional questions posed by journalists — who, what, when, where, why and how. At this point, you may have more questions than answers. Jot down these thoughts in no particular order. Be creative.
  3. Research. You now must search for information to answer the questions raised during your brainstorming session. You may need to use a variety of sources ranging from personal interviews to books and reliable websites. As you research, look for connections and discrepancies.
  4. Organize your thoughts. Organize your research then arrange the information into a logical flow of ideas. Develop some form of written outline, although it does not need to be formal. Include enough detail to guide your writing. Take a break to give yourself time to mull over your ideas and your approach. Review your outline one more time to be certain that your ideas flow logically and will be understood by your readers. At this point, about 75 percent of your work should be completed.
  5. Write. You are ready to write when you can form one sentence that summarizes the point of your writing. Complete your first draft in one sitting. If that isn’t possible, complete sections at a time so you do not break your train of thought. Use your outline and refer to your research as necessary. When you finish your first draft, put your writing aside.
  6. Edit, edit, edit. All good writers edit mercilessly. Edit for meaning, mechanics and style. Read your piece through once before making any changes, focusing on the flow of ideas. Do your thoughts unfold logically? Will your readers understand what you are trying to say? Are there inaccuracies or vague thoughts? Once you are satisfied that your message is clear, move on to the mechanics — spelling and grammar. Avoid jargon and acronyms that will confuse your reader. Finally, edit for style.  Be clear. Be succinct. Delete any unnecessary words. Use a natural tone.

When you are confident that your piece is complete, set it aside. After taking a break, read it again, make any necessary changes and you are finished!

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