Planning the Writing Project
Business writing projects can include:
- Statements of work and scope documents
- Cost/benefit analyses
- Requests for bids or projects
The first step in the writing project is to create a plan.
The second step is to consider the team members who will be collaborating with you on the project and present the plan to them. Some steps in the plan will include:
- Determine the audience
- Scope of the assignment
- Purpose and goals of the writing project
- Style and format of the project
- Outline the content
- Assign research items
- Create a schedule for the project
Looking at each of these steps individually will help you as you devise your writing project plan.
Determine the Audience
It is important to know who your primary audience is in order to focus the document and establish the proper tone. Consider the following:
- The decision maker will be in the primary audience.
- The decision maker may be the only member of the primary audience.
Therefore, so you want to make sure you are directing your comments, proposals, and research to that person. Your message may be contained in:
The primary audience is not the only audience to be concerned with, however.
Think about the secondary audience, the group of people who may influence the decision maker. This audience is going to be affected by the decision that is made as a result of your writing project and will want to have some participation in that decision.
While they may not actually make the decision, they certainly will have some kind of influence on the outcome of the decision. For example, they may be the managers and supervisors who will be required to implement the decision.
There is yet another audience that needs to be considered, at least peripherally. That is those people who will be affected by the decision, but do not have any influence on the outcome or the decision maker.
This audience is usually the group of people who end up doing whatever work is required as a result of the decision. They will be "following orders" of the managers and supervisors.
Scope of the Assignment
In this part of the planning you will want to look at the parameters surrounding the writing project. Is it to cover a certain time period or is it to present a series of ideas?
It is a good idea to get a firm grip on exactly what the parameters are before starting a project in order to prevent the project from getting bigger than it was originally intended to be.
Something that frequently happens when working on a large project is the generation of new ideas. If these new ideas are outside the original scope of the project, they should be separated out and set up as their own, separate but supportive projects.
These kinds of projects are called "spin-offs" and should not be discounted, but need to be separate from the original project.
An example would be if you and your team are working on a proposal for purchasing a new software package for the graphics design department and someone suggests another software package from the same company, but one that would benefit the finance department.
The second package is outside the scope of the original proposal, but some of the information gathered in the original project may be useful for the second proposal, making them related, but still separate projects.
Purpose and Goals of the Writing Project
When thinking about the purpose and goals of the project, you need to look back at your notes about the audience. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What do I (we) hope to accomplish?
- What do I (we) expect the audience to do with this information?
Once you have the answers to the questions, you will be able to determine the tone and the format of the project. Is it:
Remember, there are three reasons we write these kinds of projects:
- To provide information about something.
- To persuade someone to do something.
- To write the project in such a way as to engage the reader enough to read the entire document and respond accordingly.
Style and Format of the Project
The style and format of the project may be dependent upon templates already in existence in the company. Before starting any major writing project it is wise to check with someone to see if there are approved style sheets, templates, or format guidelines that need to be followed.
If there are none, this is an excellent time to create something that can be used in future writing projects.
Also consider whether to use graphics, charts, images, and photos. Note the following:
- The position of graphic elements in a document needs to be consistent. For example, charts and graphs should be adjacent to the text that they support and should be used sparingly.
- The use of graphics and images breaks up the text, making the report easier to read, but they must be:
- Free of copyright issues.
- Appropriate to the tone of the document.
Outlining the Content
An outline will give you the opportunity to organize your thoughts, the concepts to be explored in the report, and the flow of information.
There are some guidelines for creating outlines that, if followed, will produce a tool that is invaluable in the completion of the writing project.
The following table lists things to keep in mind as you create your outline.
||The structure of the headings and subheadings should be in parallel structure. For example, if the first word in heading one is a present tense verb, the first word in heading two should also be a present tense verb.
- Determine Actions
- List Strategies
||The information in the first level of headings should have the same significance. As you move down the outline, the second level headings should be of the same significance, one step lower than the first level headings. For example:
- Determine Actions
- Identify Possibilities
- List Alternatives
- List Implementation Strategies
- List Deliverables
- Create Timelines
|Determine Level of Detail
||The information contained in headings is general, while the subheadings contain more detailed information. For example:
- Describe Your Favorite Leisure Time Activity
- Favorite Vacation Spot
- Favorite Outdoor Sport
Dividing the Outline Properly
Each heading in the outline should have a minimum of two or more parts.
In other words, if you have a top-level heading, you need a second top-level heading, and each subheading should have at least one more sub-level heading. For example:
- First Top-Level Heading
- First sub-level heading
- Second sub-level heading
- Second Top-Level Heading
A benefit of outlining is the ability to re-arrange the information quickly and easily to make it flow easier. Outlines will also help you focus your content.
Assigning Research Items
Review the outline and determine which items need further research. Assign those items to members of the team who will then provide titles of resources for each of the areas that need research.
Those lists of resources will be divided up among the team members who will actually do the research and provide information back to the team for compiling into the project.
Creating a Schedule for the Project
This is an important step. Everyone on the team must know what the deadlines are for each phase of the project. Do not just set the final deadline, but include in the schedule any benchmarks, or steps needed to complete the work, and when those benchmarks are to be met.
Assign ownership of the benchmarks to members of the team, impressing upon them the importance of meeting the benchmarks in a timely manner and communicating to the team if there are foreseeable problems with meeting set deadlines.