This is Part II in a five-part series on keys to writing project success. In Part I, I introduced the topic, suggesting that a document may be good (i.e. well written, well organized), but not successful. I defined a successful writing project as one that “delivers not just the necessary content, but also the higher-level factors that ensure your message is heard and your objectives are served.” Those objectives include:
- Ensuring expectations (of the person who assigned you the writing task–even if it’s you) are met
- Understanding the audience
- Being clear on the document’s purpose
- Making the document an appropriate length
- Taking context into consideration
In Part I, I also presented some steps you can take in the planning stage to ensure your writing projects are successful. In this post, I focus on steps you can take in the research phase.
The research phase is critical to writing project success in that you will be using the information you gather at this stage to prepare your document. Gathering too much or too little information–or the wrong information–can lead to unsuccessful results. Remember, “garbage in, garbage out,” so don’t collect garbage! Instead, keep these guidelines in mind:
Look at Previous Documents
Start your research by asking the person giving you the assignment if any documents similar to the one you will be writing have already been prepared. Ask their thoughts about each document: Do they like it? Do they think it’s effective? Why or why not? If it is effective, use it as a starting point for your own document development. Take note of the style, length, sections, format, and tone. Similarly, if it doesn’t work, determine why, and focus on avoiding similar mistakes.
Go Beyond Your Topic
In addition to researching your topic, spend some time finding out about the document’s audience and the company’s competition. Now is the time to get in tune with your readers and determine what they really want to know. Be sure to target their interests and concerns, and think about how your document will add value to their lives. It’s equally important to scope out the competition, and see what similar documents they might have available. How can you make yours better, or at least dissimilar enough that readers can tell the difference?
Let Your Purpose Guide You
What is the purpose of your document—to inform? Promote? Sell? Keep it in mind as you research your topic and gather information. For example, say you are writing a white paper about Technology X. Because your intention is to inform, rather than sell, you will probably not include specifics about products that incorporate Technology X, including their uses, their benefits, or how to purchase them. Focus your research instead on details about Technology X itself, perhaps including its development, structure, and applications.
Know When to Stop
Once you start the research process, it is sometimes hard to know when to stop. How do you know when you have enough information to start drafting? The answer is, you never really know, especially if you are new to the writing process. However, in order to be as efficient as possible, you need at some point to draw the line. When you start encountering the same information from multiple sources, you probably have enough to get started. I advocate completing all research before you start drafting, but know that you can always do more if you need to. Be sure to take your document length into consideration–don’t gather enough information for a book if you’re only writing a 500 word article.
Make It Fit
The other information that is available to your audience should guide your research as well. Check to see what other documents are available on your topic, and determine how you can add to what’s already been presented, or introduce a new angle. At the same time, keep an eye toward high-level company objectives. For example, if the company wants to make it clear that Technology X was developed in partnership with Corporation ABC, then you might want to contact subject matter experts from Corporation ABC as part of your research.
For more tips for writing project success, check out the other posts in this series:
Part II: Research
Do you have examples of writing project success (or lack thereof)? Please share in the comments.
About the Author: Karen Marcus, M.A. is a Northern Colorado copywriter who has been helping clients in a wide range of industries to put their best word forward for 13 years.
Need assistance setting yourself up for writing project success? Karen can help! Click here for contact info.