Tips for improving your writing often focus on what happens once your words are on the page – how to check your grammar, troubleshoot punctuation and spelling, edit your work, and so on. But what about the “writing” that happens before you pick up a pen or open a new Word document? Here are a couple of things you can do that will make the writing process easier and make your writing better – before you begin.
First, decide on your purpose for writing. What are you writing? A blog entry? A response in the comments section? Are you explaining a procedure or process? Recalling an event? Telling a story? There are dozens of kinds of writing, and each is usually used for a distinct purpose.
For example, if you are writing in the comments section of a blog, you are probably writing either to agree, disagree or in some way arguewith the author. You are writing to express your opinion on a topic. Maybe you feel so strongly that you want to persuade others to agree with you and to take action of their own.
On the other hand, maybe you have a story to tell, and your purpose is to amuse, entertain or inspire your readers. Are you writing to explain how to do something? To mock or make fun of something?
Take the time to be clear about your purpose, because purpose will help determine other features of your writing, such as tone, content and structure. For instance, if you are writing to explain how to avoid bears while camping, your tone will be fairly serious, your content will be factual, and the structure may be a set of step-by-step instructions.
Second, identify your audience. Who are your readers? Children? Adults? Do they speak English proficiently or are they still developing these skills? Are your readers experts in the topic you’re writing about? Are they colleagues or fellow students? Answering these questions can help to determine your tone, vocabulary, and how strictly you adhere to the conventions of writing.
In the camping example above, suppose you are an outdoor adventure guide and your audience is a group of inexperienced teenagers. You will probably choose a tone that’s friendly but serious and a vocabulary suited to the lower high school grades. You want to be sure they understand everything you’re saying. You may dispense with some strict conventions, however, because it’s okay to use contractions and even the odd sentence fragment with this audience.
Taking these steps before you write can help keep you on track. The writing process involves making a series of decisions. Defining your purpose and identifying your audience narrows the number of choices you have to make, so that the process is simpler and the finished product is more clearly focused.