A 5-step process for writing anything important

May 23, 2017 | Better Writing

Writing well can give you an edge in business and in life but, let’s face it, not all writing is equally important. You don’t have to think a lot about dashing off that email about where to go for lunch or thanking someone for a favor. On the other hand, if you want to move the needle on a project, you need to be able to write what advertising great David Ogilvy used to call “lucid memoranda.” When it’s time to write something important, follow these five steps.

Define the Challenge

Before you can write something effective, you need to have an idea of what you want your writing to accomplish. That starts with the people who will read it. What do you know about them and what’s important to them? What do they know about you and what you’re writing about? What do you want them to do after they’ve read your writing? Answering this last question is a lot more effective if you can make it something that is observable, something they will say or something they will do.

Gather Your Material

Your writing will include three things: points, data, and stories. Decide what points you want to make. Gather data to support those points and stories that will illustrate them. Or, go the other way. Start by identifying the stories you want to tell. Then define the points each story will make and gather data to support the points.

Let It All Marinate

Don’t start writing right away. Instead, let your thoughts about the people, actions, and the points, data, and stories slosh around in your brain for a bit. You’re likely to have insights and ideas about what you should write and how you should say things. Make sure you have a way to capture those insights and ideas. Index cards, notebooks, and voice recorders are the three tools of choice. If you don’t capture those ideas, you’re not likely to remember them when you need to.

Get Everything Out of Your Head

It’s not writing if it’s still in your head, so your next step is to get everything out of your head and onto a page or into a file. Start writing. Get it out. Get it down. Get it done.

Don’t worry about what you don’t have, you can fill in the blanks later. Don’t worry about elegant phrasing, you can fix it up later. In fact, don’t worry about anything except getting all your ideas out of your head.

Revise Until Done

Real writers revise. So, get to work. Write your first draft then go through it and mark it up.

Write a second draft. Read this one out loud. Your mouth will catch things that your eyes will miss. Continue the revision process until your changes are only making things different but not better. Run your spell- and grammar-checkers. Then send it off.