- Outline, organize, and gather sources. (30-45 minutes)
- Read over the outline a couple of times at the end of the day. (5 minutes)
- Write the first paragraph, and make notes on the outline for reminders. (30 minutes)
- Read over the first paragraph and outline at the end of the day. (5 minutes)
- Write the entire article in the morning. (1 hour)
- Review the article in the afternoon and send it to the client. (15 minutes)
Tip #1: Organize FirstEverybody hates outlining until they sit down to write a first draft without organizing the information first. Take the time to outline, or at least to organize your thoughts on paper. In this stage, also seek out any documentation you’ll need, so it’ll be ready when you sit down to write the full piece. Even a simple email will go faster and be more effective if you get your thoughts together first. Outlining WILL save you time in the long run. I promise.
Tip #2: About the Writing ProcessThis tip is really several tips:
- Don’t multitask! Set the time aside to write, and don’t do anything else. If you allot the times I’ve described above, you’ll have time to complete the project. But NOT if you’re flipping to your email every five minutes.
- Don’t aim for perfection the first time. Most people spend time ruminating over just the right word or phrase, and it brings the process to a halt. Just get something on paper! The beauty of word processing is that it’s easy to change it later.
- Don’t try to do it all in one sitting. The process above doesn’t just save time – it makes your writing better. It allows your thoughts to gel, and you’ll have better ideas. I get most of my best ideas in the shower, and it’s because I review everything at the end of each day.”
- Don’t finish your thought if you’re interrupted. I know this one sounds counterintuitive. But I always try to leave off in the middle of a thought. When I come back, I can finish that thought, and I’ve already built some momentum.
Tip #3: Make It ReadableReadability is an often-overlooked element of good business writing. People are busy, and they won’t get through a gigantic block of text filled with five-dollar words. There are three basic points:
- Get to the point! I see far too many emails and memos that have a paragraph of gobbledygook at the top before getting to the subject. Journalists call it “burying the lead” (often spelled “lede”), and it’s a plague on business writing. Keep your intro short and to the point.
- Use shorter words and phrases. Now is not the time to show off your massive vocabulary. Why say “utilize” when “use” will do? Why say “in order to” when “to” will do?
- Use white space and accents. White space is inviting. Accents – italics, bold, and underline – draw the reader’s attention.
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Tip #4: Make It CompellingThink of it this way: Everything you write is a marketing piece. You probably wouldn’t be writing it if you didn’t want someone to do something, right? A few ideas:
- Use active voice. Business writing is a sea of passive voice passages, and active voice will make your writing stand out. It’s the difference between, “A decision must be made” and, “We need to make a decision.” Check this link for more information.
- Use power words. It’s a simple fact that certain words have a strong psychological effect on the reader. Here’s my favorite power words list – I use it all the time.
- Use a thesaurus. Most mere mortals can’t come up with the right word right away every time. A thesaurus will help you keep from over-using words – and save you time ruminating in the bargain.
- Bookmark your writing help sites (like the ones above). I have a “Writing Resources” bookmark that makes it easy to find what I’m looking for – again, saving me time!