It’s amazing that so many smart, experienced people don’t think they can write, struggle to write, or don’t write well when they try. When I’m asked for advice on how to get started on, and finish, a business-writing project I usually try to reduce it to a few understandable and easy-to-remember essentials.
I guess the big trick is recognizing that there’s really no magic involved—writing is thinking. Thinking requires focus, reflection, imagination, deliberation, concentration, and an orderly process. (Time and no distractions are a good idea too.) Often a little inspiration helps trigger the writing process, but mostly it’s a big dose of perspiration, a bigger dose of dedication, and a process that move writing projects forward.
What do I mean by “process”? Well, what does a good business writer do first? Answer a few basic questions:
- What’s the subject? What’s the key point; what needs to be said? Do I know the subject? Do I understand what needs to be said? Clarify the main idea. Obviously, if you don’t yet know the subject you’ll need to research and learn it before you can write about it.
- Object and purpose. The first question leads to a second question: what is the object and purpose of the piece? Why are you writing it? What do you expect it to accomplish? How will it be used? What action should it trigger or inspire? Why would someone read it? What impact do you seek?
- Who is the audience? Once you have carefully and clearly identified what to say and why it needs to be said you can answer this third key question. Who will read the piece? Who will find it useful, interesting, and relevant? Is the audience narrow or broad? How do you want the information to hit or be used by that particular audience? How much or little does the audience know about the subject?
The answers to these questions give you a good start on the substance of the piece and how to organize and present it. I can usually tell when I see poor writing because I begin asking “what’s the point?” You don’t want readers asking this question. If they do, you’ve lost them—probably as you wandered into the superfluous. During your final review ensure that you have in fact made your point in a way that your audience understands and that serves your objectives.
This is just a framework of starting points—a simple process—that I find keeps me on track.