In this series of posts I’ve asked Sarah Fox, 500 word lawyer, all about her thoughts on how lawyers and others can write more clearly, whether that is for legal documents, emails to clients or marketing materials.
Previously I’ve asked Sarah about why we should all try to write more clearly. In this post I ask her how we can go about this in an organised way.
When writing any document you should take a structured approach. This applies not just to the task of putting pen to paper, but also to your preparation.
The process can be divided into 5 stages:
Tasks – Analysing (audience and purpose)
Focus – The reader: what’s in it for them? why are you writing? what action do you want?
Tools – Questions: who, what, why?
Tasks – Thinking, collating, methodology
Focus – The data: what information does your reader need to answer the ‘why’ of the report?
Tools – Data collection. Primary/ secondary research tools. Tools for assembling, collating & culling raw material
Tasks – Planning, ordering, structuring
Focus – The flow: how can you best present the data to answer the question?
Tools – Mindmaps, outlines; creative or linear structures.
Tasks – Getting words onto paper
Focus – Quantity: everything you think you want to answer the question
Tools – Dictation systems, voice recorders, word and data processing software
Tasks – Reviewing, refining, analysing and clarifying
Focus – Quality: only what you need to say so your reader understands the answer first time
Tools – Readability statistics, grammar and spell checkers; proof-readers and editors.
The rough split of time for each stage is:
- Pre-writing (planning) 25%
- Text (writing) 25%
- Editing & clarifying 50%
Most writers spend too much time on the text stage and not enough on either planning or editing (as opposed to proof-reading).
Thanks Sarah, I think that’s a really helpful summary. I know my personal weak spot is research and planning, in that I get too interested in what I’m learning/the bigger picture and don’t move into action soon enough (at least I’m sure that is what my editors would say!)
What is your weak spot and how will you fix it now? I’d love to know in the comments and I’m sure Sarah would pop over to answer a few questions too.
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