Organizing Information for Business Writing
Helpful hints that will improve your business writing
While it's natural to simply want to put pen to paper and start plugging away at that technical document or business pitch, a little planning before you begin your business writing may save you from a room full of blank stares at the next office meeting.
Engage your audience with these business writing tips
Below are some helpful business writing tips for business people who want to learn how to write lucid, engaging prose.
Decide upon your topic
Begin by asking yourself the most basic of questions: What do I want my business document to be about? What information do I want to get across to my readers? In order to avoid biting off more than you can chew, your answers to these questions should fit into one succinct sentence.
Make a mind map
Take a piece of paper and write your topic sentence in the middle. From there, make 10 lines from your topic sentence to the outer edges of the paper. This should look similar to the spokes of a bicycle wheel issuing from the center of the page. You should assume the readers of your business writing will have absolutely no knowledge of the general topic as you begin jotting down the subtopics you'll need to discuss in order to achieve your final goal (which is effectively explaining the original thought you wrote down). Don't worry about the order of the ideas. We'll take care of that later.
Utilize secondary sources
You should now have a page with one central theme and at least 10 subcategories issuing from it. Now it's time to incorporate some secondary sources—your business writing will be considered no more than mere opinion unless you have something to back it up.
Brainstorm sources that can help you get the point of each subtopic across to your readers. Write these sources beside or under each subtopic (you can do this in a different color if it helps you organize your thoughts). Your sources should be reputable works that will lend credibility to your business writing, rather than take it away.
Whether you are writing a business plan or creating the notes for a PowerPoint presentation, now is the time you should start placing your subtopics in order and making connections between them. At this point, you'll probably want to grab another piece of paper. List your subtopics in the order that seems the most sensible, leaving a blank line or two between each. In the spaces, you should write a sentence or two that connects the first subtopic with the second, the second with the third, and so on. The best way to make connections between seemingly unrelated subtopics is to relate them back to the central theme of your business document. However, if you notice that connecting two subtopics is particularly difficult, this may mean that the order in which you present your information may need to be revised. When you're finished this step, you should have your original "bicycle wheel" page and another sheet with a list of subtopics and connectors for each pair.
Take a break
At this point, you'll want to let your information stew for a while. If you sat down in the morning to do this exercise, leave it alone until the afternoon. If you're working on your outline at the end of the work day, don't look at it again until the next day. This will allow you to gain an objective perspective of the information you wrote down when you come back to it. You'll also notice that your mind continues working in the time that you're away from your plan. Many people say they come back to their work with new and better ideas.
Repeat until you're satisfied
You should now have taken a break and come back to your business writing with a fresh pair of eyes. You'll want to consider all the information you've collected and ask yourself the following questions: Are there any subtopics for which I couldn't think of supporting sources? Are there subtopics that don't seem to connect to the others? If your answer to any of these questions is yes, then you may have to omit a subtopic. Remember that you can start the business writing process over again or simply retrace your steps at any time and add new information. This is the most critical step because you are essentially deciding what makes sense in your business writing and what doesn't. By the end of this step, you should have the overall theme, a list of quality subtopics and the order in which they will appear in your presentation, sources to support each point you want to make, and information that connects each subtopic to the next. Your business document is practically written!
While this method requires that you begin the planning stage well before the deadline, you'll find that having all the information crystal clear in your mind before you begin to write will allow you to communicate your ideas to your readers more eloquently.
Remember to re-evaluate your subtopics
As a final note, you may be wondering how many subtopics you should be using in order to reach a certain word count or number of pages. A good rule of thumb to remember is that introducing each subtopic, providing a source, and linking it back to the main theme of your business document and to the next subtopic should take between half a page and one page. If you find you're using only a few lines per subtopic, then you're likely not explaining yourself fully. Go back to the drawing board and try to think of a new source, a clearer connection to other sources, or a better subtopic altogether.
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