Technical Writing: How to Reduce Writing Time



workers puzzle

In the world of business, technical, and scientific writing, many business people hate writing--that's the long and short of it; consequently, many procrastinate when it comes to writing. And procrastination, in many cases, can lead to poor writing. Often, it's not necessarily that the business person isn't an adequate writer but dreads writing because it takes time from other tasks that s/he believes are more important or because the writer feels that no matter what s/he writes, it's never good enough for the boss, supervisor, etc. Regardless, there are strategies that writers can use to make the writing task easier and less arduous.

First, writers have to have a plan. "Oh," you're thinking, "I thought you were going to give us some great advice that would cut our writing time in half! But you want us to plan..." (sigh). Well, having a plan CAN cut your writing time in half, believe it or not! However, you have to take the time to create that plan, which WILL take time in the beginning; however, it WILL also save you time in the long run because it can be used over and over and over again. Think about it: most of us, when we begin to write, do one thing: we write. And then we write some more, and then we wordsmith, and then we revise, and then we submit, and then we get our work back with red ink all over it. So, what do we do? We start the process all over again. And we waste lots and lots and lots of valuable time. 

So, having a plan can help us, both in the short and the long term. Here's how: once we create a plan and use it, 1) in the short-term, the plan forces us to re-consider and re-think whatever "strategies" we were using, and 2) long-term, we become so familiar with the plan that using it becomes second nature. Over the next several blogs, we'll talk about how to create and use your plan.

The first part of your plan should be to understand, as much as possible, your readers or your target. For instance, what do you know about how they read (are they skimmers or will the document in its entirety?); their interest in the topic; their biases about you, your firm, or the topic; their attitude toward you and/or your company? What is their goal in reading; that is, what do they hope to accomplish or learn from reading? Even things like how busy they are, whether they're a decision-maker, and the kind of environment they read in (see our blog on "Avoiding Noise") can be helpful. The point is to consider all angles about your readers--knowledge is power! Be sure to actually WRITE your answers to these questions down (if you don't take the time to write the answers down, you're not planning, you're simply musing). As you write down your questions and answers, you're creating an audience rubric, or checklist, that you can use over and over and over again, for various readers and writing tasks.  Keep in mind that this rubric can be added to, or detracted from, as your target readers and writing tasks change. Starting that rubric can go a long way toward helping you plan so you can write better and faster. In the next blog, we'll continue to discuss writing plan tips.