Begin At The Beginning

We’ve all received that email: you know it’s important, you have a good idea of what it’s about, but what does it mean?

All too often, when we write, we start where WE are in a process, and not where our reader or audience might be. This is what happens when you phone the IT help desk. They know so much about computing that they always leave out the really simple, easy instructions that they take for granted and you don’t.

Everyone is busy and everyone needs to prioritise what they use their time for. Therefore, when you write, you need to start at the beginning: why is this important for your reader to be paying attention to? In short, what is in it for them?

What that means is that YOU need to know WHAT you are communicating about and WHY?

These 2 questions will help you focus your thoughts, prioritise the information you need to share and also understand better where to start.

In our fast-paced information economy WHY we are doing things has become increasingly important to our ability to prioritise. So if your content has a specific reason for its existence, share it first so that your audience can understand the benefits they will get or the risks they will avoid by reading your writing.

Then move quickly on the WHAT you are writing about: the subject.

Think about it like the opening scenes of a movie. Films generally start with an establishing shot: A wide-angle, long shot that shows the location where the action takes place. From this, we understand a lot about what type of film we are about to see. Then the characters  (or the what) slowly get introduced. You can do the same thing in your writing by first establishing the WHY and then the WHAT of your message.

Once you have these two questions answered you need to figure out what the result of your writing is: what thing or action or reaction do you need? In other words, what is the end?

Once you know the WHY (the reason), the what (the subject) and the goal (the end) you can decide what you need to get from the beginning to the end: how many steps? How much extra info is required?

This way of thinking about writing means that you leave out anything that doesn’t contribute to the WHY or the WHAT.

Don’t force your readers to wade through a few sentences or even words before they can understand your writing. Begin at the beginning, keep it clear and simple and make sure you have a strong WHY that is visible and easy to understand… You’ll find your writing will immediately have more impact.

David Chislett, senior trainer zakelijk Engels