You’ve got your strategy. You know who you’re writing to, and why. You’ve got that all-important first paragraph. Now it’s time to select your content; organize it; decide on the best format to use; and finish up strong.
Here’s how to select your content; how to significantly reduce the time it takes you to write that piece, because you will edit your content before you write a word! No more wasted words, time and re-writes. Take a look at your content list under the last sub-section of your Blueprint (“Develop Content.”) Here’s where you listed everything you want to say in this piece, based on:
- Your reader’s need for the information
- Your reader’s use for the information
- Your purpose for writing this piece
- And NOTHING else!
- Take a second, thoughtful look at that list. Delete any content item on that list that does not fit your reader’s need or use for that piece of information, or your purpose for writing it.
- Editing out these unnecessary content items may well remind you of something you need to say that is not on the list. Add it.
- Once you are certain you have everything you need to say, and nothing else, you are ready to organize.
Here’s how to organize your content: Group similar items together. An easy way to do this is to put a number next to each item on your list. You will put the same number next to each item on the same subject. You now have several items in several groups.
In a shorter piece, each content group will be the content for a single paragraph. Now that you know the content of each paragraph, it becomes fairly easy to organize the order of the paragraphs which will come after your “lead” or first paragraph – the paragraph you have already written. So four ways to organize the order of your paragraphs (which will start with paragraph 2, after the “lead” paragraph) are:
- Logical flow from the first paragraph
- Most important first
Then write each paragraph in order, using the edited content for each. And that’s it! Quick, easy, and tight. No rambling, no wasted words; just everything you need to say – and nothing else!
Note: If you are writing a shorter piece, each information group will be a paragraph. If you are writing a longer piece, these information groups will be sections or chapters. Detail content and follow the same process for each section or for each chapter to organize the longer piece.
A Word about formats: How the words look on the screen, or on paper makes a terrific difference in how the piece is received, and how/if it will be understood. Writing is a visual art, as well as an intellectual one.
The format most of us learned in school is called the narrative format, and is the one most often used in business writing, with variations depending on the business or organization, and the piece being written (e.g., email letters, reports, sales letters, memos, and so on.)
In addition to variations of the narrative format, many companies and organizations will devise their own specific formats for the various pieces to be written from that company or organization. Others have their preferences in terms of bullet points, 1-2-3, and a-b-c use to delineate separate points. Best advice: Find out if your company or organization has a style guide, or a preferred “way of doing things.”
An Appropriate Close is a strong close. Review your Blueprint. Which side are you on – the persuasion side, where you need to get a result? The information side, where you are presenting information objectively, with no specific result to be achieved? Your objective – what you want to accomplish, will help determine which of the four types of closes you will choose:
- Conclusion (persuasion side): Tell your reader again, in positive, strongest possible benefit-to-the- reader terms, what action must be taken, what decision must be made, what procedure must be followed or changed, and what ideas must be held, or revised.
- Summary (information side): An objective summary of what has been said, with no action stated; it’s left to the reader to be informed, objectively, from the unbiased information you have presented.
- “Nicety”: This is a made-up word to cover those trite, meaningless phrases “everyone” uses, that sound good, but mean nothing, and do nothing but take up space. The purpose of a “nicety” should be to establish, or reinforce a relationship with your reader. If that is the case, be sure that your close is genuine, and specific to your reader.
If your tone does not call for that relationship, don’t use a “nicety.” You don’t need a “curtain line” to exit the communication. Just
- _________(Quit.) This is an under-used fourth option. When you’re finished, and are not trying to build or reinforce a relationship with the reader, just quit.
Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email email@example.com to learn more.
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