A Frustrating Phrase to Focus On

It dependsWe all knew what was coming. Most of the students groaned internally, some even audibly.

With a twinkle in his eye, Professor Phil Doughty answered the question with his favorite phrase: “It depends.”

That response is as frustrating now as it was when I was a graduate student at Syracuse University more than a decade ago. It’s frustrating, but it is also wise.

A lot of people approach problems in a binary sort of way — is it this, or is it that? Unfortunately, life isn’t that tidy, which is where “it depends” comes in. We have to consider lots of factors when we approach a problem and consider solutions.

Writers need to consider many variables when we face our screens (or pages).

“Wait! I’m not solving a problem when I write.”

We actually do solve problems – we provide information to meet the needs of others. Every writer does, even fiction writers. (The problem: how do I escape from my hum drum life for a while?)

So, how do we take “it depends” and convert it into something useful? Here are the things we need to look at when we write:

  • Desired outcome(s) – We always have to keep in mind what we’d like to see come from what we’re doing. Keep a picture in your head of what the outcome will be like. Will the reader buy the product, become a loyal follower, successfully complete a training module, or buy our novel?
  • Reader needs – What does the reader need to reach the outcome? Where does the reader stand and what do we need to provide to successfully get her to the desired outcome?
  • Other stakeholder needs – Let’s face it; most of us are writing for someone else: a client, a boss, a publisher. When we look at outcomes, we also have to look at what these stakeholders require. Do they need to increase sales by five percent over a year? Do they need 100 percent of their employees to successfully complete training? Do they need a blockbuster fantasy novel to boost their sales? Do they need 100,000 blog followers to promote their products or services?
  • Tools and methods – Once we know what we must achieve and what our readers and stakeholders need to get there, we have to match up the correct tools and methods. Web writing or long writing? Bullet lists or paragraphs? Chapters or hyperlinks?

Yeah, yeah. I know this sounds like a lot of work. Why can’t we just sit down and write? Well, we could do that, but our writing probably won’t be as effective; it won’t get us to where we need to be as successfully.

Will doing all this front end work make us better writers? It depends…

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