Want to Write Better in Less Time? Answer These Five Questions.

Don't jump in just yet!

Don’t jump in just yet!

Writing is hard work — even for professional writers. You know what makes it a lot easier? Putting it off. No, not indefinitely, but until you first answer these five “prewriting” questions.

1. Who is going to be reading what I’m writing?

No one! Haven’t you heard? People don’t read anymore. Let’s be optimistic, however, and assume some souls out there will devour every word. Are you an HR director writing to new hires about the company vacation policy … or are you the new hire writing to ask for some unearned time off? Obviously this will affect tone and approach.

2. What do I want them to understand?

People promptly forget much of what they read. That’s why you need a clear idea about the main message you want to drive home. Got it? Good. Now ask yourself: Is your audience already familiar with the subject? How much background information do they need? Is some gentle persuading (or serious arm twisting) in order, or are they already on board? Now, what did I just say? See? Go back and read it again.

3. How should I organize the information? (You know what I’m going to say …)

Yes, you really should do an outline. It doesn’t have to be pretty. You never even have to show it to anyone. But it should exist — and not just in your head. An outline helps ensure your writing has a logical flow and you don’t leave anything important out. Just jot down the main points you want to cover in the order you want to cover them. Boom, done.

4. What can I do to make sure they’ll actually read it?

Short of standing over their desk and forcing them to read it out loud? Make it as easy as possible for them to understand what you’ve written. Think subheads, short paragraphs, bullets, etc. Even if they don’t savor every word, if you can make it scannable, they’ll still get your main points.

5. What do I want them to do with this information?

In the marketing world, this is where the “call to action” or “CTA” comes in: Buy our yogurt! Vote for this candidate! Like us on Facebook! Remember that HR director from question #1? Maybe she just wants employees to file away the company vacation policy and call her with questions. The point is, there’s always something you want your audience to do. Otherwise, why are you writing to them?

By answering these questions, you may feel like you’re just delaying the inevitable pain of doing the “real work” of writing. But here’s the great thing: Once you actually get to that real work, you’ll find it’s a lot easier.

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