26 Mar 2009
We’ve all been there. It’s called blank page syndrome. It’s that feeling you get when you’ve been asked to write a report, a press release, a case study or a sales letter. But after 20 minutes you’ve only typed two words on the page; and that was your name.
So where do you start? What technique can you use to get the creative juices flowing? What plan can you use to ensure you include all the information you need? What system can you use to make sure your writing is sharp, concise and error free?
I’ll tell you. It’s called The Process. And it consists of 7 simple steps. Check it out.
Think about your audience
Ask yourself: Who am I writing this for? What do they do for a living? What do they want to read? What do they worry about? What makes them happy? Type a description of this person at the top of your page. Give them a name. This is the person you’re going to write for.
Think about your objectives
Ask yourself: What do I want this document to do? What’s its purpose? To inform? To get somebody excited? Create a buzz? Convince?
What you want your document to do is known as the ‘function statement’. Type at the top of your page: ‘I want this piece to confirm/identify/highlight/announce/compare/clarify/ summarise/notify/recommend’.
Ok, I know the word brainstorm is not PC. But you get the drift. What’s the one thing you absolutely must include? What do you need to tell your reader to convince, persuade, reassure them? This is your key message. Type it on your page.
Then write anything that comes into your head: ideas, words, sentences, false starts. This helps you get in the ‘zone’.
Write an outline
Once you’ve got all your information, start to organise and evaluate. Write your headings and number them. Be logical about this. Remember you need to make your document as easy as possible for your reader to understand. Your headings might not be used in the final document, but they’ll help you with your planning.
Write the first draft
Ok, get writing. Take a look at your outline and notes and start to write a first draft. It’s sometimes easier to write the summary and conclusion or the introduction and call to action first, and then fill in the middle chunk afterwards. Don’t agonise over grammar and punctuation at this stage. Just get it down. Let the words flow.
Edit your draft
This is the fun bit. And probably the most important part of the process. Firstly, take a break. Ideally overnight. But certainly a couple of hours if you can. This will help you look at what you’ve written with a critical eye.
Print out your document; it’s easy to miss something on screen. Read carefully through your work. Really read it. Does it do the job? Remember the objective you typed at the top of the page earlier.
Check your structure. Have you got the information in the right order? Is it logical? Does the story flow? Move sentences and paragraphs around so your points are made more clearly.
Check your sentence length. Can that sentence be shorter? Shorter still? (On average your sentences should be 15-20 words.) Make sure there’s only one idea per sentence. Remember the message you’re trying to communicate. Remember the people you’re talking to.
Check your punctuation. Check your grammar. Check your facts. Make sure you’ve used an active voice. Use plain English.
How’s it looking? Print it out, check it, and edit again.
And finally…proofread your work
You’re nearly done. The last part of The Process is proofreading. Here are a few ways to proofread what you’ve written.
Print out your document and read it out loud. This is a good way to catch missing words or double words.
Read from the bottom of the page backwards. And read paragraphs out of order. This technique stops you being distracted by the meaning of the words and is a good way of spotting typos.
Work with a ruler, keeping it just below the line you’re reading. This forces you to slow down and focus on each word.
Touch each word with the tip of a pencil. This will make you read more slowly and will help you spot mistakes.
Remember to make sure your formatting is consistent. And if you’ve used speech marks or brackets make sure they’re in pairs. And finally, check dates, people and companies. Are they right? Are they spelt correctly?
Phew. Done? Print it out and check it again.