Struggling to start writing? Make a plan first!

Colleen Trolove | February 16, 2016

People often say to me that they struggle to get started with a document they need to write. People often panic because of time pressures, workload, and a lack of understanding of their purpose and outcome.

Sometimes time frames are tight because your work has to go through what I like to call the ‘gatekeepers’.  These are the people that need to check your document rigorously for content.What is your writing process graphic

Use a plan to organise your mind and avoid panic

Creating a plan before you write helps to give your document the edge that will help you get past the gatekeepers. We suggest starting your document with a 5-step writing process to help you:

5 step writing process graphic with no highlights

Step 1: Think and gather

We suggest using step 1 to think and gather all the information that you’ll need to make your document successful. We say to think carefully about your reader, purpose, outcome, and main messages. Below is a list of ideas to help you think and gather your information.

Step 2: Outline and plan

Create an outline of your document by giving it some structure. You can do this by writing out your main headings and second-level headings. These headings will reflect your main points, your readers’ questions, and the order you want to present them in.

How to plan and structure your writing with descriptive headings

Step 3: Write for your reader

Here’s where I like to say kick off your shoes and put your reader’s shoes on. You are now writing with your reader in mind. Write only what they really need and avoid overloading them with unnecessary content.

Step 4: Edit your document

Push the reset button here and revisit your purpose and outcome first. Now is a good time to check in with the person who commissioned the document — to see if you’re on the right track. Look at your structure, language, and tone.

If you have a writing style guide, check it to make sure you’re consistent with the use of words, symbols, dates, and so on.

The Write Style Guide for New Zealanders

Step 5: Proofread your document

Take a break first before you start proofreading! Then check spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

12 tips for proofreading your own work

Once you’ve done all your checks, invite someone to peer-review your document for you. They’ll be able to pick up on anything you’ve missed.

How much time do you spend on each step?

It depends on the type of document you’re writing. For shorter documents you may spend less time thinking and gathering.  We suggest for longer documents spending roughly the following amount of time on your five steps:

Percentages of the writing process chart

You may already do all of the above, but not in that order. Give it a go — focusing on one step at a time is a great way to work more efficiently!

Insights, tips, and professional development opportunities.