It can be difficult to help people understand the importance of planning a piece of writing. Those of us who have taught writing will have sometimes felt that our advice has gone unheeded with people wrongly believing that spending time planning isn’t an efficient use of time. Without a doubt, planning will improve your writing and, like everything, the more you do it the easier it gets.
Professional writers spend a great deal of time preparing, considering different ideas and organising their thoughts before beginning to write. Even if you’re not getting paid for your words, planning is one of the main ways to write more effectively and it should always be your first step.
Those who believe planning is a waste of time, and it’s better to just make a start, haven’t understood that planning actually saves you time and effort. A plan is like a road map guiding you through step by step while helping you organise your ideas and check you have all the information you need. Without your ‘map’ you can get lose your way, wasting time wondering which ‘roads’ to take, perhaps even going round in circles. With a plan you’ll never have to ask yourself ‘What do I write next?’
As you begin planning, you need to consider three factors:
– What is your reason for writing?
– Who will read your writing and why will they read it?
– What information is relevant to your purpose?
– What information will effectively get across your reason for writing to the reader?
Once you’ve identified these three factors you’ll have a clearer idea of what your finished piece of writing will be like. For instance, thinking about your purpose will help you avoid including any irrelevant points that may confuse your reader; thinking about who might read your writing can help you decide the language to use (a formal or informal style, simpler vocabulary or terminology only certain readers would understand, for instance).
Plans come in different shapes and sizes, depending on you, the writer, and on what you’re writing. Experiment with a few different ways to discover which are more effective for you. You can write a list of bullet points, draw a flow chart, create a mind map or write ideas on separate sticky notes that you can move around to organise.
If you’re struggling for ideas, brainstorm as many possibilities as you can without worrying about how relevant you think they are. Write them all down then get rid of the ones that don’t relate to your purpose, reader and content. Put them in an order you think would be good for your reader and you’re ready to start writing!
Writing without a plan sends a very clear message to your reader: you’re unsure about the points you’re writing about and in which direction to go in. To avoid a possibly confused or frustrated reader who won’t want to keep reading, practise your planning skills. Not only will your writing improve, but you’ll also give readers confidence in your writing ability and in you.