Getting Down to Business Writing: Start-Up Strategies for Generating and Organizing Ideas
I would be willing to bet that all of us have, at one time or another, put off a project until its deadline loomed large, leaving us feeling frustrated and perhaps even a little panicked. With writing, I’ve found that it is often getting started, and not the actual execution of a document, that is most difficult.
If you’re having a hard time getting started, use one of the following start-up strategies. You’ll be writing in no time. Once you‘ve put down some of your ideas and combated the horror of a blank white page or screen, you’ll realize the project you were dreading really isn’t so bad after all.
1. Traditional Outline (all types of writing)
A traditional outline is the most efficient way to map out what you need to write. Try it if you have a plan and a general idea of what you want to say. Write down your most important ideas and add sub-points underneath. Sequence the ideas in a logical manner, and use your outline as the building block for the document you need to write. Note that the ideas below can all be used to generate the points that you would put down on an outline.
But what if you find traditional outlines difficult? Lots of people do. Here are some easier ways.
2. Questioning (e-mails, short memos, letters)
Ask yourself, “If I were the person receiving this document, what would I want to know?” Write down the questions you come up with and then answer them. If you’re unable to answer each question, gather more information. Questioning is a good way to determine all the information that you should include in your document.
3. Mind Map (longer memos, reports, proposals)
If you feel like you’ve got too many ideas and little sense of how to organize them, use a brainstorm outline. Get out a blank sheet of paper. In the center, draw a circle. Within it, write down the goal you have for your document using an action verb: for instance, “Persuade my boss to buy XYZ software.” Draw spurs coming out of the center circle for each new idea. Place related ideas along or branching off of the same spur.
4. PowerPoint® slides for planning (longer reports and presentations)
As we pointed out in an earlier blog post, PowerPoint is often abused and over-used. But, it can be very useful. For this start-up strategy, use the notes-page view or write all your free thoughts right on the slide. Create a new slide for each idea and, if you use the notes-page view, add all your notes in the lower half of the page. Then, switch to slide sorter view to sort and rearrange the pages.
5. Post-it® Notes, movable tape, or index card outline
Write down each idea on a new Post-it Note, piece of movable 3M® Post-it tape, or index card. Once you’ve written down all your ideas, arrange all the pieces on a large desk or table. Simply move them around until you think you’re looking at your ideas in the most logically sequenced order.
For speeding up the business writing process, remember these two tips:
Avoid getting bogged down in formatting—just start writing. Remember, these are start-up documents, not the final product.
Don’t worry if an idea seems silly or inconsequential. Write down everything you can think of—you will always edit later.
Every one of these strategies should have you writing in no time. They will help you formulate ideas, organize your thoughts, and, most important, avoid procrastination. You will have more time to draft and edit effective documents. If you’re still having a difficult time writing, you may be suffering from writer’s block. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on how to defeat this pesky beast.