Writing efficiently is a concept that sometimes seems unachievable. We write, and then we edit. And then our bosses comment and edit. Then we rewrite. Then our boss comments and edits again. This can go round and round, especially when multiple stakeholders have a say in the final document that is released.
It’s not rocket science. It’s an art. And it all hinges on planning.
This might seem counter-intuitive, but the more time we spend up front planning, the less time it will take to create the desired final document. As Mark Twain says, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”
Here are my top 5 techniques and strategies for writing efficiently:
1. Know your purpose
Why are you writing this particular document? What are you trying to achieve? Try writing the purpose of your report in 140 characters or less. The clearer you are on your purpose, the more efficient you will be when you write. Because everything you include should support that purpose, no more and no less.
2. Know your reader
Who will read the report? What information do they need from you to do their jobs better, make a decision, or approve your recommendation? Understanding what your reader needs means you don’t have to include what they don’t need.
3. Plan the content
Start with your template. What are the sections you need to include, and what is the main point(s) for each section? If you’re old school like me, scribble your notes on a pad of paper or use small cards, one for each main point. If you prefer using technology, use your tablet to draw a diagram of concepts or some other program to record your ideas – without starting to write the full document.
4. Cut, cut, cut
Forget about writing everything you know about the topic, or everything you did to come to your conclusions and recommendation. Granted, sometimes this is necessary, e.g. in a research report, but most business documents are not research reports. Include only what you need to support your conclusions and recommendations. That means facts, figures and surrounding context. You’re not writing a book; you’re writing with a specific purpose.
5. Put yourself in the readers’ shoes
As you finish up with your document, think back to your planning stage. What do your readers need from this document? Read the report as if you are your reader, whether it’s your boss or five other people in the organization. Would you need all of the information included in the report? Many times we feel like we must include all of the extra information because it shows the amount of effort we put into the research, it shows how well we understand the topic, and sometimes, that it justifies our being on the payroll. My response to that? Leave it out.
The end result
By spending up-front time planning what should be in the document, you’ll end up writing less. This means less writing time, and less editing time when you send it to your boss or other stakeholders for their input.
Over time, you’ll see your report writing efficiency increase. It’s like exercising and creating muscle memory. The more you practice these efficiency techniques, the faster you’ll get, and the more time savings you’ll realize. Your reports will be short, clear and concise. And your readers will thank you.
We all have our own techniques and strategies for writing efficiently. What are yours? Share them in the comments below. Because by sharing, we create more value for those around us who have the same interests and needs.
All the best,