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Think Right Before You Write: 3 Pre-First-Draft Principles to Consider

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Fri May 20 2016

Think Right Before You Write: 3 Pre-First-Draft Principles to Consider
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Like so many endeavors, practice and preparation are necessary for peak performance. Writing is no different. Here are three pre-first-draft principles that will help you better understand your reader, counter potential objections, and keep you from veering off course into writing that ends with no direction or purpose.

1. Consider Your Audience 

The purpose of your work is to inform your readers, so you neglect their needs at your own peril. Is your audience small and homogenous, or large and multifaceted? Are they friendly or undecided? Is your information primarily instructive, or is your intent to persuade them to adopt your point of view? What do they already know about the topic? Is your work introductory information or is it supplemental data?

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The answers to these questions will give you direction on how to proceed and with what motive, tone, and perspective. It might even be helpful to create a visual image of your typical reader and write as if that person is in the room with you.

Identify your readers. Focus on their main interests. Determine how your audience will use your material and what they already know. And write accordingly.

2. Anticipate Special Reader Reactions 

You should prepare for a wide range of responses to your writing. Keep in mind that they will not all be favorable, depending on what message you want to communicate. Will there be skepticism to your proposal? Is your viewpoint contrary to the status quo? Are you presenting material that is so new that it is met with more raised eyebrows than nods of approval? Is there a personal problem or situation that accompanies your topic of discussion? Do you have a history with the audience or unresolved issues that may prejudice their thinking?

Meet skepticism about new or controversial positions with facts and clear, logical thinking. Address personal issues and situations with tact, empathy, and humility. Rarely will your readers be neutral, so be prepared for anything.

3. Structure Your Message Properly 

Writing worth reading has been placed in a certain order for maximum effect. While the most common document structure is a once-upon-a-time, as-it-happened format, in which events are presented in chronological order (often with the most important information toward the end), we have found a more effective structure in what we call the MADE Format. We will expand on this format in our upcoming ATD session, Strategic Writing: Quick, Clear, Concise.

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Effective writing doesn’t just magically appear on the page; it takes a surprising amount of behind-the-scenes preparation. But if you keep these three points in mind, you’ll be well on your way to creating a piece that will communicate the right information to the right people at the right time.

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