Writing Success: Plan, Organize, Write, Review

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    Planning and Organizing Your Writing

    When people struggle to write, it is often because they did not start by planning and organizing their writing. For example, you need to consider:

    1. Who is your audience?
    2. What are your goals with that audience, that is, what key points do you want to convey to them?
    3. What kind of writing style best appeals to them?
    4. So how should you design your writing?

    Consider this table:

    (Contributed by Deane Gradous, Twin Cities consultant)

    Type of correspondence

    Letters (external)


    • Good news
    • Bad news


    • Networking
    • Sales
    • Requests

    Memos, reports (internal)

    • Research reports
    • Status reports
    • Meeting reports
    • Trip reports
    • Progress reports
    • Procedure
    • Newsletters
    • Request for action






    • Up–Management
    • Down–associates
    • Across–peers
    • Our–customers

    Reader analysis

    • Decision maker
    • Customer/client
    • Regulator
    • Expert/ non-expert
    • Technician
    • Operator
    • Manager

    Task, relationship, and image



    • Turn on/off
    • Connotation/ denotation


    • Formal
    • Informal
    • Conversational
    • Personal
    • Impersonal


    • Grammar
    • Spelling
    • Proofreading


    • Concision
    • Active Voice

    Relationship issues

    • You” focus
    • Positive
    • Empathic
    • Inclusive
    • Problem-solving
    • Collaborative

    Organized for the reader



    Methods of development

    • Order of importance
    • By time
    • By space, etc.






    Writing for Readability

    (Contributed by Deane Gradous, Twin Cities Consultant)

    Make your writing visually appealing, well organized, and simple to take in and remember. Even though you write for a captive reader, do not assume that he or she will be fascinated with what you have to say.

    Use headings and subheadings

    Help speed recognition of what the page contains. Use headings to communicate a sense of order and conciseness. Make your communication look planned, coherent, and forthright. Order is important. Start with a statement of your purpose for writing. Add the when, who, how, and where details that you have organized into some rational order. Say what you think about the above, and end with a summary. Put endless tables of data in an appendix.

    Don’t tax your reader’s power to take in information

    Straight text looks formidable. The reader braces himself or herself for an ordeal–for heavy going. Because we humans have relatively limited capacities for information processing, you should present your information in bite-sized chunks, which your reader may then quickly note and take in. Keep paragraphs
    short–seven lines of type at the most. The shorter, the more irresistible your paragraphs are.

    Put key ideas in indented paragraphs where they will be noticed. Just as you noticed this paragraph.

    Look for opportunities to use numbered or bulleted lists. Numbers designate order or hierarchy. If your word-processing program does not create bullets, you can create them by filling in lower-case o’s with a felt pen. Remember to make all the items in your lists grammatically parallel and to add no punctuation
    because the list is its own punctuation.

    Use white space as a foil

    White space is not random nothingness. It is a tool; use it! White space is functional when it works to lift your ideas off the page and into your reader’s mind. Be concerned with the use of margins and the consistency of spacing between lines and paragraphs. A 60-character line or less will help your reader track correctly through your text. And keep white space white (clean). Eliminate visual nuisances such as fancy borders or prominent logos.

    Use a style sheet

    For consistency, design template files with your preferred page layouts for letters, reports, and memos. Save these settings in separate files and lock them. Some word processors have a style feature to facilitate paragraph formatting. Style sheets save you time because you make the small but important decisions involved in formatting your written communications just once. Style sheets also help you create a consistent, professional image.

    Add visual appeal

    Add personality and drama to your correspondence by incorporating hand-written notations, graphic illustrations, and charts. Graphics attract. Use graphics to break up the page and to lead the reader’s eye right to where you want it — perhaps to the second and third pages of a long memo.

    Checklists, sidebars, summaries, tables, graphs, hand-written notations, and cartoons will add to the visual appeal of the page. (Exception: Place a series of tables and graphs in an appendix.)

    Use restraint

    Sparingly employ italics, boldface, underlining, upper-case type, asterisks, and changes of font or type size. Too much variety creates an impression of complexity or messiness. Eliminate noise, such as unnecessary periods at the end of items in a list and parentheses after the numbers in a list.

    Highlight important text

    To draw attention to important material, place a border around a short passage. See your word-processing manual for how to add 5 points of space around the type.

    Formatting Your Writing

    As mentioned in the previous section, formatting is a powerful way to ensure readability for your readers, especially in today’s rapid pace when many readers prefer to skim rather than read.

    Getting Started With Writing

    Often, the hardest part of writing is getting started. Consider this variety of different suggestions.

    Set a timer for 510 minutes, and write for the entire time. Aim to write anything that is even slightly related to your topic. It’s OK to set down your thoughts and feelings about approaching this writing task.

    Ask a colleague to listen while you talk about your writing project and the ideas you plan to convey to your reader. Then go to your computer and start writing.

    Take a handful of 3″ x 5″ index cards and write your ideas on them, one per card. Arrange and rearrange your cards in an order that makes sense. Add ideas as they occur to you. Then tape the cards to a large sheet of paper and fill in the details around each idea. Very often, the ideas on the cards become headings or topic sentences for paragraphs.

    Begin to write anywhere in the middle of the piece. Start with the most interesting [to you!] part. Your enthusiasm may carry you into completing your writing project. Write the beginning of the piece last or whenever you are ready to do so.

    Put your reader in an empty chair and talk to your reader as if he or she were sitting across the desk from you. What is your reader most interested in learning from what you are writing? After your conversation, start writing.

    Listen to baroque music. Mentally explore your topic. Reread your notes. Relax, and let your subconscious take over for a few minutes. Expect an A-Ha! Write quickly.

    Go for a walk and consider what you want to say to the reader. Return to your computer, and start writing.

    Create a Mind Map. Write your way around it.

    Reviewing Your Writing

    The following act ivies are often covered in the overall topic of editing.


    This means carefully reviewing your writing to be sure that it conforms to the rules of proper spelling and grammar. Here are some useful articles:

    Does It Meet the Goals of Your Writing?

    Do you believe that your writing will achieve the goals that you specified when you first planned and organized your writing? One of the best ways to verify that is to have a few members of your intended audience review the draft of your writing and then ask them to mention the key points that they took from the reading. Ask them how your writing might be modified to make your points even clearer.

    Here’s a useful article about reviewing/editing your writing

    For the Category of Communications (Business Writing):

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