3.2: The Writing Process

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Introduction – What’s Plain English?
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Writing in plain English


Think about what you want to say

Begin your email, letter or document by asking yourself the most basic of questions: What do I want my business document to be about? What information do I want to get across to my readers? Your answers to these questions should fit into one short sentence.

Think of a topic that you often write or phone about (booking a hotel, making inquiries, making an appointment with someone, etc.). Write down in one short sentence what you want the reader to know or do. Then make a list what you need to tell the reader.

Plan how to say it

Writing consists of two separate activities:

– formulating concepts and ideas (the message)

– putting them into words (the statement).

These two activities revolve around three basic steps:

– Organizing

– Writing

– Editing

Organizing yourself

Ask yourself:

Why are you writing the document?

Who is the document for?
• your target audience and use of language

What do you want to achieve?
• your objective

What does the reader already know?
• amount of information you must provide

Are you writing to a colleague or a customer?
• use of formal or informal language

Does the reader know the topic?
• use of technical terms and jargon

What supporting information and arguments will you need?

How will the reader benefit?
• Why should the reader respond positively?

What are the reader’s interests and his likely objections?
• What does the reader want and what does he/she see differently?

How can I include the reader’s interests and counter his objections?
• How can I show that I understand his/her needs?
• What must I tell him/her to get him/her to see things differently?

Organizing your ideas

Outlines are useful in planning and developing a document. They provide a structure for developing ideas. They allow the writer to determine the desired logical sequence of thought and ideas. Outlines also serve as a reminder to ensure the writer covers all the points. There are three basic approaches:

Mind Map

This is a graphic presentation of ideas. A core word, phrase, concept or idea is written in the center of the page. Related ideas branch out from the center. Further ideas are clustered around these branches. Mind mapping is a creative approach to brainstorming. It helps the writer generate different ideas before arranging them in a sequence.


Traditional Outline

Following is an outline showing you how to structure your ideas, information and arguments. You will have to outline your email or document to take your reader to where you want him to be.

Sample Outline


No more than three sentences:

I. Attention-Getter
Something the reader can easily relate to

II. Central Idea or Main Point
Your message or objective, what you want the reader to think or do

III. Relate topic to reader
How the reader stands to benefit from following your proposal or solution

Main Point (Only use one main per email.)

• Supporting point

• Supporting point

• Supporting point


I. Summary of the main point

II. Appeal or call to action

III. Closing lines that relate back to the introduction and strengthen the relationship


Creating a checklist of points to cover is a similar non-graphic approach to mind mapping. This is a list of words and phrases to cover key points. It does not have to be arranged in any sequence initially. When completed, you can structure the ideas by numbering them.

Checklists can be converted into a traditional outline.

Use a mind map, a traditional outline and a checklist to draft upcoming emails. You may combine any of the previously listed methods or adapt them to meet your needs. See which method suits you best.


< Back to 3.1
Introduction – What’s Plain English?
        Next to 3.3 >
Writing in plain English