Since one of my most common requests from readers is to write about writing (a very meta subject), I've been thinking about writing this article for a while. Yet it's oddly intimidating to write about writing. My personal expectations get in the way. I feel like my writing quality bar should go up for this article, if I'm suggesting that others follow my instructions. Yet I also have some personal rules in place to limit my own revisions on articles, to avoid spending too many hours on a single article.
Anyway, just sharing some of my thoughts. I hope you all are having a great day. I am grateful for the hundreds of you who have chosen to set up monthly and annual subscriptions. It's fantastic to have the support of so many readers, and to hear from people every day about how much they've been learning from their reading.
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Once upon a time, I was in an AP English class in high school. I didn't enjoy many of my high school classes, and English was no exception.
We had dozens of writing assignments. Most of the non-fiction assignments followed the same pattern. Research a topic, cite them using the proper format. Write a hypothesis, a few paragraphs to support your hypothesis, and then a conclusion. The rigid format and proper citing requirements emphasized that school writing is academic writing, not business writing.
Many years later, my own son is doing school writing assignments, and the academic writing style persists. It's not that academic writing is bad. I'm just disappointed that it doesn't reflect my experience writing business documents or educational articles.
I began to enjoy non-fiction writing once I graduated from school. A well crafted 6-page document can clearly explain an area of a business, a technical roadmap, or a product proposal. An article can educate you on a topic, or open your eyes to another way of thinking.
One of the most common questions I get from readers is about writing. They explain that they find writing documents at work challenging, and they would like advice on how to improve.
When I wrote 6-page documents at Amazon, and when I write articles for my newsletters, I follow a very similar workflow and process. For anyone who isn't comfortable with their writing process or abilities, having a purposeful writing process will help.
Step 1 — What's the “So What?”
The most important thing to establish is what you want your article or document to accomplish. You are writing for a purpose. Your leadership team should recognize that you are running your department well. Your project should be funded. You have employees you would like to teach a specific technical skill.
Determine who the audience is, and what you want them to know / decide / learn.
Generally a single document or article shouldn't be made to accomplish multiple purposes. If you write enough to accomplish two separate goals, you will include information that one audience may not care about. If you lightly cover two topics, you haven't covered each well.
For example, you don't want to write a document to update your manager on the status of the project, and use the same document to summarize project status for the involved stakeholders. The two audiences likely care about slightly different things.
In “Skip-level meetings”, my goal was:
"Help people to set a productive agenda for their skip-level meetings."
For this article, my goal was:
"Help people formalize their business writing process."