Effective Business Writing – Part 1
A while back, I attended a writing workshop. It was mostly aimed at writing better in general. While most of the topics were points that I (and you) already know, I did take a way some worth from it. So, here are some ideas I took from the event, since they can benefit all of us writers, including those who are not formally “writers,” but need to write in some capacity for the job, since this information can apply to emails and any writing you do: creative, business, professional, recreational, etc.
The workshop was based on a 6-step writing process, which should be applied to all writing projects. The steps are: preparation, idea generation, organization, words to paper, editing, and proofreading. It’s a logical list and likely nothing too new to you. However, the value is in the details as well as in the instructor’s fine presentation. Below, I have detailed the process.
Right Brain / Left Brain
As a premise to detailing the six steps of the writing process, I’m refreshing you on the idea of Right-brain / Left-brain activities. The left brain is the more rational, linear, logical, unemotional side, controlling small muscle movements, learning, and for our purposes, editing. Conversely, the right brain is the creative, spontaneous, fun, emotional side, controlling large muscle movements and, for our purposes, writing.
The preparation stage is all about getting ready to write and getting your tools together (dictionaries, writing guides, related documents, etc.). For our purposes, this means logging into the app for which we’re writing, opening the wireframes, and opening the content standards.Getting ready to write means asking the right questions of the project on which you’re embarking (or just think of paper writers for hire). Ask the usual who, what, where, why, when questions, but then take them to another level. For example, it’s not just who your primary audience is, but also who else will read the document. This is a good time to consider audience: what you can assume they already know, why we’re writing to this group, and even where they might have some resistance.
- Idea Generation
Idea generation is the phase when you brainstorm the topics and points you want to address in your writing project. An excellent way to do this is through clustering, which is essentially mind-mapping. To begin, put the main idea in a bubble in the middle of a page, and then create sub-bubbles that branch out from the main idea. Each sub-bubble could also have sub-bubbles.At this stage, clustering is more effective than making an outline, since it offers a three-dimensional plane. An outline is more linear and you can get caught in going down set paths. Clustering software exists—I used bubbl.us when planning the dissertation. However, digital clustering is more time-consuming. It is generally more effective to cluster on paper, since it allows ideas to flow more quickly. Reflective essay format would be the best choice.
Organization is the phase in which you take the clustered ideas and organizes them into a logical structure. Clustering is very effective in getting general ideas down, but most writing projects still need to follow a more linear structure. Therefore, for the organization phase, an outline is often most useful in organizing ideas.
Freewriting is the creation phase in which you put thoughts to paper. You should basically perform a data dump without concern for spelling, accuracy, punctuation, grammar, style, etc. Essentially, no editing, which is a left-brain function, should take place. “The biggest mistake writers make is trying to write and edit at the same time.” Left-brain functions inhibit the right-brain creative process, and vice-versa.Turn off all spell check and grammar functions. Work from your cluster or outline moving on to a new topic any time you want. Feel free to use abbreviations and leave blanks. Give yourself permission to keep going without stopping to edit. Don’t worry about the raw nature of your product; this is not a final draft.
Editing is the phase in which you go through your freewriting content to ensure it is accurate in regard to content, tone, style, flow, etc. This is the time to move things around and reword. While you and I do much editing each day, it’s worth laying out some of the key points we want to address in our writing. Best practices include:
- Write conversationally – make sure the style sounds conversational
- Use short words, sentences, paragraphs – edit down to keep it concise
- Use active voice – remove passive voice occurrences
- Keep it concise and to-the-point – remove superfluous words
- Avoid the weak verb “to be” – use a stronger, active verb
The proofreading phase is largely about ensuring the accuracy of your spelling, punctuation, and grammar. While some proofreading naturally occurs while editing, this is the time to make perfect these functional elements. Best practices include reading your text backwards, reading a print-out (not off the monitor), and reading a few words at a time. It is often best to have a second person edit your work.
In this writing process, beginning with Preparation, each step alternates a left-brain and right-brain function. In this way, you are alternating use of each side of the brain, which should not encroach on the duties of the other when it is active.
Be sure to check out Effective Business Writing – Part 2.