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Book Excerpt: How to Write Effectively

Planning Through Outlines
 
Formulate a rough plan for the entire piece before you put pencil to paper. Here is Pozen’s approach to creating an outline:
 
  1. Brainstorm: Take a blank piece of paper and jot down all thoughts on the relevant subject. The goal is to get down as many ideas as possible, not to put them into any particular order.
  2. Categorize: Put the ideas into various categories and subcategories. This process helps to organize the ideas into groupings, which will become the building blocks of an outline.
  3. Outline: Arrange and rearrange the groupings in various combinations. In the end, try to find a logical order for the groupings, which can serve as a writing outline.
 
How to Structure Your Writing
 
With your outline in hand, you are ready to start writing. The three key elements of any essay are the introduction, the conclusion and the body.
 
  1. Start with an introduction: Provide the reader with context; State the main theme of the author; Explain the organization of the writing.
  2. Use summaries and conclusions: A summary is simply a condensed repetition of the main points of an article or memo. A conclusion should go beyond a summary in various ways.
  3. Body paragraphs: Dividing the body with headings or subtitles to show the structure of the document; Starting each paragraph with a topic sentence so readers can easily read off the tops of the paragraphs.
 
Takeaways
 
1.  Before you start writing, create an outline that shows the logical progression of your piece. Start by brainstorming ideas; then put them into relevant categories, and finally organize them into a logical order.

2.  Use the introduction of a piece to provide context, establish the theme of the piece, and indicate how it will be organized.

3.  Create an executive summary for long or dense documents that describes the big picture so that readers short on time can understand the main points.

4.  Start each paragraph with a topic sentence presenting its main idea. You want your reader to be able to read off the tops of the paragraphs if he or she is skimming.

5.  Don’t use your conclusion to merely summarize the piece; provide the reader with additional insight, such as broader implications or suggestions for future actions.

6.  Use effective language. This means short sentences, clear relationships between clauses, and proper use of antecedents for pronouns.

7.  Proofread your paper for grammar and spelling mistakes. When you’ve finished, proofread again. One error is one too many.

8.  Accept that your first draft won’t be perfect. Don’t try to write and revise at the same time, or you’ll get hung up on every sentence.

9. Use as many words as you need to cover your topic to your audience’s satisfaction, but don’t add length for length’s sake.

10. Don’t try to write a long piece in one sitting; write regularly every day for an hour or two in an environment that best suits you.
 
 (Source: Extreme Productivity by Robert C. Pozen)
 

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