How to Get Started Writing

5 May 2011


  Image by Rennett Stowe


The American poet, Robert Frost once said, ‘The brain is a wonderful organ. It starts the moment you get up and doesn’t stop until you get into the office.’


This is particularly true for many of us when we have to write. We might sit staring at a blank computer screen and wonder, ‘How do I get started on this report?’  


One way to get past that problem is – don’t start at the beginning of the document.


Start at the end.


At the end of most emails or reports, we write what we want the reader to do. This action is the whole aim of writing at work – basically, getting stuff done. For example,

--Please send me…

--Please take care of …

--I recommend we …

--I suggest that we …


First step

So, first write down a sentence that states the reader’s action. (It’s part of the ROADmap, described on page 6 of Business Writing with TASTE.)


Second step

Next, think about what the reader would ask if you told them to do something, and write down those questions.


Example 1: If your action statement is, ‘Please take care of the XX problem’, the reader might ask questions like these:

--What specifically is the problem?

--What caused it?

--What might happen if we don’t take care of it?

--How should I take care of it?

--When do you want me to get this done?

--Do we have a budget?



Example 2: In some cases, you won’t have a specific action statement. Instead the reader has asked you to send information so they can do something. Let’s say, for example, your boss needs to know the status of a project you’re working on.


So you’d need to ask yourself some questions, for example:

--Why does my boss need to know the status of the project?

--What/How much have I done so far on the project?

--What problems have I had with it?

--What will I be doing next?

--What do I need to get things done?



Third step

After you’ve got the questions in step 2, start jotting down the answers.


By the time you start doing this, you’ll probably discover that the writing is easier and the document almost writes itself.


Fourth step

Remember – what you’ve done in steps 1 to 3 is only a first draft. You’ll need to go back to make sure that everything is complete and in a logical order, and of course, written in clear language.


How do you get started writing?

Do you have any tips on how you get started writing documents at work? Please share them in the comments.

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