By Shana R. Spindler, PhD
Writing without planning can be a daunting and time-consuming task. The NICHD Office of Education scheduled a full-day FranklinCovey Writing Advantage workshop on May 2, 2011, to give NICHD fellows the tools to feel empowered during the writing process.
Cordell Kyllo, the workshop leader, presented a number of helpful writing tips during the meeting. A few main points stood out among the suggestions:
- Think for the reader
- Brainstorm ideas before writing
- Use the "Effective Writing Process"
Think for the Reader
Every piece of writing should begin with the reader in mind. Who are the readers? What do they need to know or do as a result of the writing? What are the readers' priorities? By keeping these questions in mind, a piece of writing is more likely to be effective.
A writer must also take into account how the target audience will read the document. For documents that will be read quickly, bullet points, simple bold titles, and short paragraphs can help a reader find and understand the information.
Brainstorm ideas before writing
Before writing a document, brainstorming can help capture new ideas and discover alternatives, said Cordell. Two brainstorming techniques include free writing and sticky note grouping.
During free writing, the author rapidly writes any thoughts that come to mind and avoids self-editing. Free writing enables new ideas to surface and can help overcome writer's block.
Putting separate ideas on sticky notes enables the writer to organize thoughts into a logical order. A scientist may find this process helpful while writing a materials and methods section with a colleague.
Use the "Effective Writing Process"
The "Effective Writing Process" helps you PLAN, DESIGN, DRAFT, and REVISE a document.
Planning includes identifying the target audience and brainstorming ideas. Cordell suggests using a document planner that identifies the document's purpose, what the readers should know or do, and who the readers are.
Designing documents can be guided by a four-box format:
- Document's Purpose
- Preview of key supporting points
Each section should be clearly separated, and subsections should have clear, informative headings. This article is an example of the four-box format.
Drafting a document is often the most difficult stage. Cordell suggests using your document planner, starting with an easier part of the document, and writing the first draft without self-editing.
Revising is the final stage of writing. "Be clear, concise, and correct," emphasizes Cordell. Revise the document for paragraph length, the use of active voice, and word choice.
The "Effective Writing Process" makes writing more efficient
With a little planning and patience up front, you can save valuable time when writing a document. The Writing Advantage Workshop offered useful tips about how to plan, design, draft, and revise your writing. Most importantly, "quality is in the mind of the reader," said Cordell.