Evaluate Your Writing: Planning and Organization

Posted on: June 17, 2009

Evaluate your writing to help control the process of creating a document and to ensure that the final result meets the planning, outline and project requirements you established at the outset. Those requirements function as a standard, or “yardstick,” against which the document is measured to gauge success or failure.

Let’s assume that you have written the first draft, and now it’s time for the reviewers to take it for a test drive. What are some of the common problems that indicate a lack of proper planning and organizing of the document?

Your audience feels left out. Readers find that the document is written in technobabble, or jargon, and is understandable only to those already in the know. Or perhaps they feel “talked at” or “talked down to,” instead of having concepts, procedures and terms explained and presented in a clear, simple way. Successful documents (and products!) take the audience into account.

Your audience feels as though they aren’t “going anywhere” when they read the document. This often occurs when the writer hasn’t created or followed an outline. One result is that readers can become entangled in unclear writing that lacks focus and direction. Without an outline, documents tend to ramble in a disorganized, fragmented way. Lack of an outline also affects the chapter/section and paragraph levels of writing, where there will be no sense of flow, transition, or coherent development of the subject matter. The takeaway here is that the outline is a cornerstone of successful writing.

Your audience can’t find the information they need. Many large documents, such as user manuals, for example, need an extensive table of contents to be truly usable. Large documents also benefit from a list of figures, a list of tables, and an index. These, along with navigation aids, contribute to creating a document that is worth your customers’ time. Help your audience learn what they need to know, as quickly as possible.

When reviewers find one or more of these common problems in planning and organizing, the document needs to be revised. In a future post, I’ll discuss some approaches to handling revisions.


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