Writing is often seen as an obsolete skill, but for business people it is crucially important to be able influence, persuade and convince with our writing. And it all starts with effective planning.
Start with the end in mind
What do you want your audience to think, feel or do as a result of your writing? This is not always obvious and of course there may be multiple possible outcomes. An article for a journal is obviously different from a proposal or a letter of introduction, but in each case there is a reason for your writing.
So, ask yourself questions and jot down answers about the results you are hoping to achieve.
Think about your audience
Who are you writing for? Can you visualise your readers and if so what do you know about them? What does your audience already know – or think they know – about this subject? What sort of language would make what you have to say accessible? Are they likely to respond best to technical data or anecdotes? Do they need hard scientific proof or illustrative case studies? If you were in a conversation with your audience, what questions do you think they would be asking?
Being clear about who you are writing for and what you want to achieve, are essential first steps.
Capture ideas for your content
Using a mind map or other graphical technique, capture what you could include in your writing. Add different main subjects and then keep adding detail – anecdotes, stories, statistics, areas where you need to do more research, examples – and so on.
At this stage you are not trying to structure your writing; you are simply trying to think of as many things that you could include, as possible. Keep adding detail and ideas. Use as few words as possible for each idea and draw arrows between elements that have a possible connection.
Look for themes and create a structure
If you’ve done it correctly, and not tried to structure your writing in the previous stage, you will now have a lot of things that you could possibly include. Look at this along with your notes on your audience and your purpose in writing. You need to decide now what you are going to write – what you are going to include and what you are not going to include. You may need to be ruthless, but stay focused on your objectives and keep challenging yourself about whether each ‘thing’ you are planning to write about, will support your objectives.
Ideally, the outline that you establish at this stage will have no more than three main themes or points. It may be helpful to jot these down along with the sub-points that you are planning to make and the order you are planning to make them in too.
This skeleton structure helps you immensely because you can visualise the completed article and evaluate its effectiveness. The structure will also help you to identify where you need to do research and where you already have information in your head or easily to hand.
Keeping to around three main themes or ideas will make it much easier for your audience to understand, remember and, if appropriate, act on your messages. And if it helps, you can start your writing with ‘in this article we are going to look at three aspects of this subject, one…, two…, three…’ and finish with a recap of the same three key points.
Finally, you can begin to write. With the article structure as a guide and information available at hand, you find it easier and quicker to write and be much more likely to achieve your objective of getting your audience to think, feel or do something as a result of reading whatever you have written.
Clive Lewis is one of the world’s leading experts in Mind Mapping, speed reading, accelerated learning and related aspects of managing information overload and creative thinking. He is also the Managing Director and co-founder of Illumine Training.