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Posts Tagged ‘First Draft

A good writer uses many strategies to make material clear and understandable to readers. When you plan your document, for example, you must select a structural style to use in ordering the material within each chapter or section—that is, how should you organize the paragraphs to best suit the document objectives? Should you use spatial order? Chronological order? Cause/effect order? Ascending or descending order? Comparison/contrast order? Another type of order?

Don’t answer that question on the fly. Before you begin writing, plan the document. As part of your planning, establish the structural style for each chapter or section. Then, when you write the first draft, implement your plan as you construct each paragraph. When it gets right down to the nitty gritty of writing, here are some suggestions for building a paragraph using chronological order:

One, start a paragraph with a subject sentence. In the subject sentence, establish the content and the organization of the paragraph. In the case of chronological order (our example), use words and phrases related to time. Such words indicate the order of occurrence over time, for example, words that give instructions, describe a process, or show the development of a product or a process.

Examples of a chronological subject sentence:

  • Four steps are required to complete the inspection of this product.
  • Your tour of the garden will begin at the main fountain, proceed to the herb garden and the woodland areas, and finish with a pleasant stroll through the azalea walk.
  • Periods of glacial maximum develop under three conditions.

Two, maintain paragraph unity. Once you have established the subject and the organization of the paragraph, remember that all the other sentences in the paragraph must support and explain the subject sentence. You can spot a paragraph that is not unified by looking for information that is not relevant to the subject sentence.

The sentences within the paragraph must maintain the overall order. In our example, this means you would use “time” words to discuss the subject and transition from one sentence to the next. Words like first, last, subsequently, next, after, immediately, then, in turn, initially, and so on will help maintain chronological order.

What are your thoughts on this?  Elizabeth Lexleigh  The Write Ideas  lexpower

When you have trouble writing about something, try to visualize it. Create a mental image of the thing, part, process, service, task or operation, and walk yourself through it. Or, take a “hands-on” tour. Make sure you thoroughly understand what you are trying to communicate to your audience.

If you continue to have trouble finding the right words, ask yourself whether you need photos, illustrations or other artwork to show the audience what you mean. The right combination of text and artwork is a very powerful teaching tool.

Another method of jogging words loose is to try to teach someone what you are writing about. Such interaction can stimulate new ideas or a new way of thinking about the subject. This is especially important when you are still mulling over how to order content and present it to your audience.

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.

In a previous blog, I offered some ideas on writing the first draft of a document. This blog continues that list. And, as in Part 1, my example is a software user guide.

Remember to use your outline as you write the first draft: the outline serves as your roadmap to the content of the document, and how the content is to be organized. The outline enables you to control the first draft, so you stay “on message.”

Here are several more points to keep in mind when writing the first draft:

Have  you planned a chapter that addresses errors or problems that could occur when using the product? Does each error or problem scenario offer diagnostic help and steps to resolve the issue?

In the same user-friendly spirit, if the product is an update, you might consider including a chapter that deals with frequently asked questions. These can significantly improve your customers’ experience with the product, and reduce the number of calls to the customer-service department.

If appropriate for the product, does your document contain exercises? Or perhaps, depending on your overall conceptual design, these and other “how-to” procedures are in a separate document. The point here is that for many products — software for example — it is not enough to provide only concepts and feature information. Most users need real-world examples of  how to use a product to get a job done. Instructions geared to specific objectives help users learn.

Does your document contain useful navigation tools to help your readers find things? Depending on the document and its purpose, these tools might include tabs, headers and footers, a table of contents, a list of figures, a list of tables and an index. And what about appendices? They often provide important reference information that complements the main text.

As you write the first draft, remember to make your text readable. Yes, page appearance matters. A lot. So, how do your pages look? Well-formatted, clean, crisp and inviting to the eye, or crowded and messy? If you can’t tell, aren’t sure, or don’t know enough about page layout, get a reality check by asking others in your organization — and make sure that at least one of them is a graphic artist.

You do make backups of everything you write, don’t you? Don’t place your bets on one hard drive surviving an entire project. Make backups after every work session.

In the same vein, keep records of everything you write. Many computer systems offer version control — if yours does not, you can handle that yourself by how you name files. The point is to maintain an audit trail.

So far so good. If you use some of the ideas I’ve offered about writing the first draft, you should have a solid document that will be ready for the review cycle. Also, a really good first draft will mean less work on subsequent drafts — unless the product is significantly changed while you are writing, subsequent drafts should require only minor revisions and polishing. Write on!


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