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Writing the First Draft: Part 1

Posted on: April 2, 2009

In earlier blogs, I wrote about how to construct the “big picture,” and why it is so important. By this time in the writing process, you will have used your outline of the document to collect and organize all relevant details. If  you did a good job, then you are ready to write the first draft.

For the sake of offering specific suggestions on how to write the first draft of a document, I am going to use as my example a software user guide.

What is the most efficient way to write a first draft? What method helps you produce the best results?

First, look at the overall organization of the document. How well does your outline follow the conceptual design you developed in the earlier stages of the writing project? Remember, the outline is the most visible “road map” of the content of the document. What does it tell you? If  you organized the material well, you should have a sense of seeing the entire product, of grasping the whole. The outline should project what you judge to be important about the product for the intended audience. Does your outline do these things?

Second, review your notes for the introduction, or preface, to the document. Will the introduction to your document be able to answer the following questions for your audience: What is the purpose of the product? Who is the intended audience? How is the document organized? How should the reader use the document to learn about the product?

Third, check the illustrations, charts and tables you intend to include. Do they support the text? Will your audience know when to use them? Do they help clarify? Do they have a specific purpose?

Fourth, read the material that immediately follows chapter headings. Be sure you state the purpose of each chapter or section right at the beginning.

Fifth, balance concepts and procedures. This is very important in a software user guide (our example document), which should provide principles as well as specific steps. Both are important, for they contribute to understanding and operating the product.

These suggestions are meant to serve as a thoughtful guide for the first draft of your document. In another blog, I’ll offer some more ideas. Happy writing!

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