“I hate to write!”

“I hate to write!”

Staring at a blank page can be a trial even for experienced writers. When writing is something you don’t do often it can be difficult to know where to begin. And when your goal to communicate important information clearly, it can seem overwhelming.

There’s a lot of advice on the topic—just Google “How to write.” I got 1,360,000,000 hits. Yes, over a billion.

Probably the most famous clear writing tip is KISS: Keep it short and simple. This is excellent advice, but is more of a goal than a place to start.

So, to help you get those first words on the page, here’s very basic approach. Take a deep breath and relax. You don’t have to actually write anything until step 6.

  1. Pick your topic. What exactly are you going to write about? Be as specific as you can.

  2. Think about your reader. You’re the one doing the writing, but all your efforts are pointless if no one reads or understands what you produce. So think long and hard about who you’re writing for. This is your target audience. Who are they? Are they comfortable reading or do they struggle with it? What do they already know about your topic? Are they already interested in what you have to say or is it new information? The more you know about your reader, the more likely it is that you can write something they’ll want to read.

  3. Brainstorm your topic and your reader. Brainstorm with colleagues, with friends, with clients. Draw on as many sources of information as you can. Look at the topic and the readers from as many angles as you can imagine. Look for relationships among ideas. Look for hooks that will catch your readers’ attention.

  4. Put your ideas in order of importance. Which of your ideas is the most important? If you could say just one thing about your topic, what would it be? What comes second? Third? Put yourself in your readers’ place. What’s most important to them?

  5. Refine your focus. You’ve thought about what you want to say and who you want to receive your message. Your focus is how you approach the topic. Again, put yourself in your readers’ shoes. Approach what you want to say by focusing on an aspect of the issue that matters to them.

  6. Write. You’ve already done most of the work. You’ve picked your topic. You’ve decided what you want to say about it. You’ve decided the order of your presentation. You’ve decided on an approach to making your points. Now, put it on paper. Most of us want to say a lot more than our readers want hear, so be ruthless with yourself. Here’s where KISS comes in handy.

  7. Test. No, sadly, you’re not done yet. You’ve given this your best shot. Now you need to find out how close you’ve come to a bulls eye. You need to find out how well your target audience can read, understand, and use what you’ve written. You do this by pretesting your material—either informally (by directly asking potential readers for feedback) or formally (through focus groups, for example).

  8. Revise and rewrite. Revise as necessary based on the results of your pretest. And don’t take feedback personally—there are always changes to be made.

Give this a try. It’ll get you started and as you get comfortable with writing, you’ll find the approach that works best for you.

About the Author

Jan Catano is a Health Education Consultant with over 30 years experience in developing health information tailored to the needs of specific audiences.