Think first, then write 1: what, why and who?

What, why and who?So you have a business writing task – a report, proposal, blog post or email. There’s a deadline. What do you do first? Stare balefully at a blank computer screen? Write two paragraphs and then delete one of them? Make a cup of tea?

If so, you are certainly not alone in the world of business writers, myself included. Until I started earning money as a freelance writer.

When deadlines threatened to take over my life, I discovered some professional writing techniques that cut my writing time by about 70%.

The key is not in the writing itself, but in the planning. Many writers suffer because they start writing too soon. We dive into the words before we’re clear about who we’re writing to and why.

These planning techniques are not rocket science, but they are not well known either. Few people learn them at school or college, and so find writing tasks daunting. If this is you, next time you’re facing a tricky writing task, grab a pen and some post-it notes and follow these four steps:

1. Write yourself a brief
2. Walk in your readers shoes
3. Create an outline structure
4. Now start writing

1. Write yourself a brief

It doesn’t have to be long (the clue is in the title). Some of the best briefs are a single sentence, containing a ‘why’ a ‘who’ and a ‘what’.

For example, the brief for a proposal might be ‘to persuade (why) the managing director of XYZ company (who) to buy my business writing services (what).

Or for a report: ‘to inform the management team of progress on Project X against agreed milestones.’

If you have more than one objective, rank them. So the primary objective might be ‘to persuade our senior management team to invest in new telephone equipment’ and the secondary objective ‘to inform middle managers of proposed changes to the telephone system.’ If you have more than three wildly different objectives, consider breaking the content down into different documents.

The benefit of this approach is that it forces you to think about the scope of the document before you start writing – what to include and what to leave out. You might even seek approval at this stage, and save yourself a lot of time rewriting later on.

In the next post I’ll cover that all-important second step – how to analyse your readers and write for them, rather than for yourself.


PS Do you or your organisation need help with writing skills? Click here for details of my business writing courses and one-to-one coaching. And don’t forget to sign up on the right sidebar for my free PDF on common errors ‘The Seven Deadly Writing Sins’.

Image courtesy of Master isolated images /

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