Wednesday, January 29

Writing Is A Process That Starts Long Before The First Word.

Three minutes. That is the average amount of time a student will invest in research before they start writing a paper. Professionals aren't much better. Many follow the familiar guidelines that they learned in school, writing short essays, journal entries, or field notes.

It almost makes sense, but only because 60 percent of all student assignments consist of short essays, journal entries, or field notes. Unless they take specialized classes like copywriting, journalism or creative writing, they aren't exposed to the variety of communication mediums at their disposal.

That is, they aren't exposed to them until they need them — anything and everything from technical manuals and blog content to speeches and mixed media presentations. And more than that, they need to invest significantly more time into research, especially if they think they know the subject.

How much more time? While different sources will provide different guidelines, I usually provide students with the guideline of up to 40 percent of the total estimated project time of two hours per written page. It sounds like a ton of time, but it's really not when you stop and think about it.

Epictetus said it best: First learn the meaning of what you say, and then speak. That requires considerable more thought than simply searching for sources of affirmation. Epictetus, by the way, was a Greek sage and Stoic philosopher whose work still influences people today.

Writing is a process that requires more than one discipline. 

When students and professionals treat writing as a process, it helps curb the notion that corners can be cut or that it is ever complete until the authors agree that a final proof will be the final proof. At least that is the way it ought to be. In a world where 98 percent of all employers now rank written and verbal communication skills as highly desirable attributes in employees (higher than a positive attitude or being a team player), everyone ought to take more care about the craft at hand.

The deck helps break out the nut and bolts of writing into six different disciplines: research, form, writing, editing, proofreading, and presentation. It was created for a private session presentation designed to help bring professionals up to speed on the importance and execution of good writing.


If I were asked to boil the presentation down into a single line, I might say that great writing requires great thinking because thinking is behind each discipline. You have to ask the right questions.

1. Research. What do you need to know, who do you need to ask, and where should you invest your research time?

2. Form. What organizational structure will best present the material and how will the chosen medium limit or expand your options?

3. Writing. How will the content connect to the people we want to reach and what is required to have a maximum impact with minimal means?

4. Editing. What is missing from the first draft in terms of organization, evidence, and ensuring that the people who read our message might understand us?

5. Proofreading. Did we make sure to include all the elements of modern writing to ensure that we've clearly communicated something?

6. Presentation. And last but not least, does the content we've crafted look appealing to the eye, making it easier to digest and remember?

When you consider everything that may go into communication, there isn't any end to what you might consider to make it more powerful or impactful. And sometimes it might even remind you that despite the acceleration of communication — the speed of delivery and quantity that is produced — one single piece of quality writing can be the most potent and influential thing on the planet.

In about two weeks, Writing For Public Relations will begin at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. This 10-week course covers much of what is included in the private session presentation deck above, except we will look at it all through the lens of a public relations practitioner, applying it to anything and everything from the news release to the crisis communication plan. But even if you cannot attend, I hope you will find the deck above will make you think first before writing.
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