According to James Michener, who has sold over 75 million copies of his novels worldwide, it’s not all about the initial draft, it is about re-writing.
I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter
The same applies to the business writing you do every day, whether it’s a simple email, memo, proposal, policy, procedure or business case.
You don’t have to be an English Major to write well. For you, spelling and grammar isn’t the main thing. You aren’t writing an essay, you are writing for business. That means Its your message, your ideas and your story that matter the most. Everything else can be fixed.
The best way to write effectively for business is to use a systematic process. You need to know what to write and how to make it effective (see 6 Steps to Influence with your Writing), but the reality is you need to get words down on paper (or your computer) and then you can fine tune it.
The POWER system is a structured approach and provides discipline around your writing. It will help you produce more effective writing with less effort, whether you are writing a memo, report, business case, procedure or proposal.
Like everything that’s done right, it takes time to write effectively. Plan ahead and don’t rush your writing. In the instant age of emails, don’t reply right away when it’s an important issue or topic - take the time to do it right with an effective email that makes an impact and makes you look good.
The POWER system described below is part of the free ebook “Write To Influence”.
I expanded here to show how other writing techniques outlined in the book become part of the POWER system.
Prepare To Write
- Establish the purpose of your writing. After all, everything you write should have a purpose, whether to get agreement, acceptance or approval.
- Analyze the audience to make sure you are writing to them, not what you want. They will have a different interest and perspective as well as a different appetite for the details you may be passionate about.
- Decide on messaging, themes, hot buttons, facts, evidence, themes and arguments. These are the cornerstone of your strategy.
- Collect your facts and supporting information, including images, samples, statistics, charts, quotes, examples. Having these on hand will make it easier, but if you start writing and decide you need something else to support your argument, take the time to get them.
- Create compelling arguments so that in the end, you will convince your reader. This means a logical approach that will take the reader through the process of coming to the conclusion you want.
Develop an Outline
- Develop the overall structure and flow of your document before you start. This includes the headings and subheadings that will cover all the information you need to include and the arguments you will make.
- Identify the important information that needs to be highlighted and use techniques to ensure they are seen such as pull-out boxes, graphics, separate headings and other visual methods.
Write your Draft and then Wait
- Use the outline to start filling in the information and writing the material.
- Don’t initially self-edit. First get all your information and most importantly, your thoughts down on paper. As long as you follow the outline, you won’t stray too.
- Periodically go back and compare your material with the planning you did and the outline you developed.
- Take a pause and wait before you come back to edit what you’ve written. Write it before lunch and then finish it after lunch or if possible, sleep on it for a day or two before you start to edit it.
- Read your draft from top to bottom and identify where you have met your original plan with information, arguments, information and messaging. Note changes you may need to make with flow and structure. If you need to, print it out if you find it easier to review a paper copy.
- Do a rough edit on content, structure and format. Be harsh on yourself. After all, you probably wrote much more than is necessary. Don’t be afraid to delete material that doesn’t matter. If you have a hard time deleting, copy it to another document if it makes you more comfortable. Then, after you finish your edits, revisit the deleted material to confirm whether it was really needed or not.
- Do a final edit and then check it carefully. Have someone else check your spelling and grammar – With a fresh set of eyes and nothing invested in what you wrote, they are more likely to find mistakes than you are.
Review What You Wrote
- Re-read your newly-edited material. Be critical and don’t be afraid to revisit or edit it. Compare your text with your original purpose and your outline.
- A great technique to review your writing is to read it out loud instead of reading it silently. If you have to, take it home to read.
- If possible, have someone else review your final version and give you feedback on the message and whether your writing is clear, concise and compelling. Sometimes what you write makes sense to you because you know the topic and the material but it doesn’t make sense to others.
- Edit again if necessary before you print it, send it as an attachment or hit the send button in your emails.
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