Writing requires a methodology, at least if you intend publishing something a little larger than a blog post. A common mistake authors make is that they just start writing. This is like driving down a country road not sure where you are heading.. After a while, you will disorientate yourself in trying to decide whether content should be here, there or somewhere else. The end result is likely to be messy and the time and effort involved will be far larger.
Proper planning requires a top-down approach, not unlike the planning approach used in software engineering. It will save you time and produce a better result. Here are the essential steps.
Write down the purpose of your writing assignment, it will help in focusing your mind. What are you trying to achieve and why?
It goes without saying that you should know something about your subject matter. Find as much information as you can gather on the Internet, in magazines or books. Write down what is relevant to the purpose of your writing project.
Define your audience. It is essential for you to know for whom you are writing as it determines structure, language and content. Are you writing for children or adults, a technical or non-technical audience, a superior audience, peer group or a subordinate group of people? Maybe your audience is unknown?
- If writing for a superior audience, you may need to start your document with an executive summary. Use it to identify your purpose in writing and what conclusions or recommendation you intend making, then use the remainder of your document to argue your case.
- If writing for a subordinate audience, you need to decide if the content is instructional or informative in nature. Instructional writing requires a different style to informational writing.
- If writing for a peer group, you need to accept that members of your audience may know more than you do about the material you are presenting, or they may know less. You need to take a less authoritative tone in the way you express yourself and possibly invite comments.
An outline is a plan for the structure of your document and an essential step in organizing your content. If you are the creative type, you could start with some brainstorming. Use a text editor and write down everything that comes to mind. When finished, sort the content into a logical document structure. Revisit your outline and add issues as they come to mind. If you are the methodical type, structure your document into headings and sub-headings, then make appropriate comments under each heading about the content you want to include.
Do not write your final content now and do not worry about language at this stage. Just concentrate on the issues you want to include. Make sure there is a logical flow in your outline and a proper sequence in the information you present. Does each problem or issue you raise lead to an explanation or argument about its relevance or its solution?
What you should now have is a document outline.
With your outline completed, you are now in a far better position to complete the details and write the actual content. Follow the document outline you have produced and now concentrate on presenting your content in clear, uncomplicated language. Avoid long verbose paragraphs, accept that readers are more likely to skim your document rather than reading it in detail. Long paragraphs are not appreciated. If you present a series of points or issues, write them as a bullet list or a numbered list. If appropriate, finish your writing with a brief summary of the main points you have tried to convey.
You need not worry about the presentation until you have completed the actual content. Now you can decide what you document will look like. You can now finalize the following details:
- Document size.
- Background color and borders.
- Font selection for body text and lists.
- Font selection, color and size for different headings.
- Inclusion of images and their location in your document.
- Headers and footers.
A final and essential step in your writing process is to spell check and proofread your document. The spell check you can do immediately, but I caution you to take a break before you proofread. We have a tendency to stare blindly at our own writing, not noticing obvious small mistakes. Rest and proofread with a fresh mind, not once but preferably a couple of times.
A final precaution
Save your work regularly. Re-writing a document that you have lost is far more difficult because you will concentrate on remembering what you wrote last time and this blocks the creative process.