True confessions: I’ve lived in the same house for 22 years and I still have boxes I’ve never gotten around to unpacking. Not to mention that the bookcases are literally overflowing with books on business writing. True, every once in a while I look around and think, “Hmm, I really should organize this stuff.” But then I get engrossed with something else, like reading one of my books I thought I might give away in an effort to organize the house.
Some might suggest I need a professional clutter counselor, or at least I need to discipline myself to be more organized in this area of my life. They’re probably right! Just thinking about all this clutter makes me feel that I ought to put “organize books and boxes” on my shortlist of New Year’s resolutions. But at least my messy bookshelves and boxes cause no one any real harm.
On the other hand, poorly organized business writing can have a much greater (and negative) effect on your business or on your role as an employee in someone else’s business. It makes your writing difficult to understand, spawning unnecessary additional communication. It wastes time. And time is money. On top of that, it makes you look bad, and can damage your company’s image.
So I feel fortunate that organizing writing is pretty much second nature for me. But I realize that for many people this is not the case. You may find that when you sit down to write a letter, report, or even an email that it’s a bit like being surrounded by unpacked boxes and shelves. And you are overflowing with unruly ideas.
What you need to do is bring mental order to those boxes and shelves. In a way, you have to become your own professional organizer. Or, as I sometimes think of it, a clutter counselor for writing.
The Language Lab Clutter Counselor’s Top 5 Tips for Organizing Writing:
- Start by gathering your ideas and writing them down in point form.
- Eliminate all but the most essential. (Be ruthless!) These are your key points. Then flesh them out into complete sentences.
- Group your key points into paragraphs, looking for logical flow.
- Support each key point with another sentence that provides evidence. Avoid making bold statements or claims without backing them up.
- If appropriate, use headings or bullet points to create visual organizers for your reader.
Now, obviously the above approach varies depending on the type of document you are creating. If, for example, you are writing an Executive Summary, there is a typical format you’ll follow. Usually it provides a kind of table of contents of your key points, followed by the body of the report. (Colorado State University has a breakdown of how an Executive Summary works.)
But all forms of business writing need to be concise and exact. You want readers to quickly absorb the information or message you want to share. In other words, you need to be your own clutter counselor.
Maybe it helps to think of things like headings and paragraphs as the bookshelves and drawers in your house. You want things to be tidy. You want to be able to open that drawer and quickly find what you are looking for. And, if you put your mind to it, you can do exactly that.
I guess that means I too can do it with all those untidy stacks of books and unpacked boxes. In fact, I hereby resolve to organize all of it in 2011. Gulp. Wish me luck!
What about you – what are your new year’s resolutions, organizational or otherwise?