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January 15, 2022

Think like a writer in 2022

Think like a writer in 2022
You’re probably already scanning this for useful information.

Like everyone else, you don’t have time to spare! You need reliable, clear information, quickly. You want to know: What’s this about? Why should I spend time on it? What am I going to get out of this?

As a planner, being able to write well has an impact on the outcomes of your projects, your credibility as a professional, and your organization’s success. Fortunately, there are a few techniques you can use to get readers to engage with your complex planning ideas.
 1. Identify who your main reader is and what they need

When you’re creating your reports, plans, and other documents, you are thinking like a planner – of course! You have professional expertise that will inform decision-making at the highest levels. You want to be seen as knowledgeable, trustworthy, and professional. It’s all about you!

When you’re writing at work, the reader is most important. If you don’t pause to consider what they need and want, they may not read your document at all, no matter how well you think you’ve written it. They are more likely to just skim it and may miss, or misunderstand, important points. Or they may not see the value of your technical research and analysis. When this happens, you lose an opportunity to influence the decisions that your reader makes.

To avoid this, you need to think like a writer.

Consider who you are writing for. Think about their:
  • Job title and role 
  • Level of education
  • Familiarity with the project
  • Interest in the project
  • Lived experience
  • Preferences in how they receive information

Once you understand these things about them, it becomes easier to write your reports and other documents – from an email to a complex plan. You can choose more or less technical language, provide a variety of visual elements, add more or less background information and analysis, highlight specific issues, and more.

2. Use clear, plain language

Thinking like a writer does not mean you have to be a great creative writer. You are writing in a professional capacity, for a specific purpose. As a planner, you know more about your project than just about anyone else. Your job as the writer is to make sure that people can find, understand, and act on your advice, the very first time they read it. That’s the essence of “plain language” writing.
  • Avoid jargon and technical terms: If you have to use them, explain them.
  • Spell out acronyms: If your reader has to stop to think about an abbreviation, it gets in their way.
  • Use simple words: Planning reports – like all technical reports – can get verbose. You lose some of your reader’s attention every time they have to decipher your document. Don’t be fancy with your professional writing – save that for the romance novel you’re working on!
3. Provide a clear structure

If you create work for your reader, you’re going to lose them. You can be a more effective writer if you:
  • Zero in on your key points and purpose: Put them up front and refer to them throughout the document.
  • Structure your document logically: Make essential information easy to find, where your reader expects to find it.
  • Use descriptive headings and subheadings: Help the reader find what they need quickly, particularly in long documents.
  • Break up long sentences and dense paragraphs: Keep them short – avoid cramming more than one idea into each.
4. Edit your documents

Remember, you are writing with a purpose. You want to clear the path for your reader, to make it easy for them to find, understand, and act on your advice. If they get distracted or irritated by careless errors, their flow is interrupted. And, if they question your attention to detail, they are also going to question the quality of your technical analysis and recommendations. This is not the response you want your work to receive!
Even the most technically-minded reader appreciates clear writing. It saves them time and effort! And it helps you to be viewed as a credible, convincing partner in the planning process. 

The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author(s), and may not reflect the position of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute.

Post by Lisa D. Orchard

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