26 April 2012
The past few weeks we’ve been taking a closer look at how to prepare a writing ROADmap – from the THINK stage of the TASTE process.
I’d like to continue by looking at the ARRANGE stage, where you plan how to organize a document.
To do this, we’ll revisit some of the other posts I’ve written on the subject and expand a bit more on them.
A‘work of art’
That’s how I described a well-organised document. Unless, of course, you’re thinking about abstract art.
Actually, I love abstract art.
But I do not love abstract writing, especially when it comes to business. I want clarity, coherence and logic.
What are some ways to write coherently and logically?
Have a ‘conversation’ with your reader
This idea of a conversation is a carry-over from the ‘Details’ section of the writing ROADmap, when you try to anticipate all the questions the reader might ask about the subject of your document.
Many people think that this imaginary conversation with the reader will take too much time – certainly more time than we usually want to spend on writing.
But to ‘talk’ to your readers, all you need to do is take some paper (or open a new document on the computer) and start jotting down related ideas. Don’t write complete sentences – just words, phrases, short questions, anything that comes to mind before you decide what to say and how to organize it.
Then how do you organize the information?
Tell a story
After you’ve jotted down the key ideas from your ‘conversation’, organize it in a story form.
Just like the stories you heard as a kid (or the stories you tell your kids), start with the background (‘Once upon a time…’ / ‘Thank you for your letter of …’). Continue with what happened to make the situation unstable (ie, the ‘complication’). Then state the purpose of the document.
Thank you for your letter of 10 April regarding your order of a new computer. [background]
I apologise that the delivery is taking longer than expected. [complication]
Please allow me to explain the situation and how we are going to resolve the issue. [purpose]
After this opening part of the document (in this case, an email), continue to answer questions the reader has already asked or questions they would ask if you were speaking to each other.
If you’ve thought about which questions they might be, they will probably be organized in a logical order.
What does a logical order look like? Here’s a good example of a real email I received a few years ago.
We’ll revisit more of the posts about how to arrange a document.