The Write Way

Organize for Effectiveness

Man writing on glassboardThe structure of a building influences its usefulness, stability, and effectiveness. So, too, does the structure of a document. Choosing the best organization for any document is an important writing skill. To make that choice, start by asking three questions:

What's the format?
Some types of documents, such as RFPs, have a built-in organization specified from the start. In other cases, expectations aren't as clear-cut. In these instances, Don Zimmerman, of the Journalism and Technical Communication Department at Colorado State University (CSU), suggests determining whether a certain organizational pattern is expected.

"A good way to figure out what the general patterns are is to back up and take a look at trade magazines and other publications in the field you're writing for," he says.

You can also look at successful technical writing samples.

Go with the flow
Of course, the final pattern you choose will also depend heavily on reader expectations. Pam Hurley, PhD, of Hurley Write, advises that you determine not just which information readers will be looking for, but where in the document they expect to find that information. Documents can be organized in many ways:

If you're discussing research, readers might expect a cause-and-effect organization. If providing a status report, chronological might fit the bill. Providing information in the way that best matches readers' expectations will reduce their frustration and increase your chances of getting them the information you want them to have.

Know your expectations
What do you want readers to get from the document? When you're clear about what you want to convey, you can use organization to build readers' expectations. Set expectations up front, and let readers know right away how your document will present that information.

For more technical writing tips, visit the Hurley Write blog.

Learning to ask for and apply criticism is a learned skill like any other. Practice it and watch your writing improve. Contact Hurley Write toll-free at 877-24-WRITE (877-249-7483) or by email for more information about our training courses.

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