Model Documents—Getting Started

7 March 2013

Image by TellusFashion


In this series, we’ll look at examples of  ‘best practice’ business writing. The aim is to help you see what excellent writing looks like and how you can model your own writing after it.


But just reading a well-written text or even having someone point out what makes it good isn’t enough. You need to ‘soak in’ the excellence and make it your own.


So before we start looking at documents, I’d like to talk about a way to help you learn deeply from well-written model texts.



Recently, writing coach Daphne Grey-Grant wrote an article on the value of being a copycat.


She said that one of the ways to learn good writing style is to copy word-for-word things that you read. I’ve often given this advice to my own students, because it’s an effective way to improve your writing.


Daphne has been practising this method lately. She spends 15 minutes a day copying text from various articles and from Spunk and Bite, a book about writing style.


And she has noticed two benefits:

1)   She picks up on information that she had previously read but didn’t remember. How often does this happen to you? Copying the text (which is another form of note-taking) can help you remember the content.

2)   She absorbs the writer’s style, including their writing rhythm and their vocabulary choices. Both of these things are important to learn if you want to improve your writing.


I was impressed that a professional writer like Daphne would commit to practicing this method to improve her own writing. So I’ve decided to follow my own (and her) advice and try it. I’m now copying text from Stephen King’s book, On Writing.


Is it cheating?

If you copy another person’s words and pretend that they’re your own, that’s definitely cheating (also called plagiarism). So don’t do that.


If you do quote other people’s words (or even write their ideas using your own words), you have to give credit to them, using quotation marks around actual quotes and indicating the source (the book/article title, the writer’s name, the publication date etc).


But if you just use the ‘copycat’ method without publishing it or turning it in as a homework assignment, it’s not plagiarism.


Doing this will help you absorb the writer’s style, grammar and vocabulary and eventually make them your own.


When you think about it, much of what we’ve learned in life came from copying others, starting with learning language from our parents. I strongly believe that this may be one of the best investments of study time you can make to improve your writing.


Give it a try

Let’s try this method with a short article, ‘100 icebreakers for talks with strangers: A Q&A with TED Book author Davy Rothbart’. In this article, the writer reports on an interview she had with Rothbart.


It begins with a short introduction (3 paragraphs), and continues with answers that Rothbart gave during the interview.



1)   Go to this link:

2)   Print out the article.

3)   Read the first 3 paragraphs (down to the first interview question).

4)   Take out a pen and paper (or use your computer) and copy those 3 paragraphs word for word. (Copy only as much as you can in 10-15 minutes.)

5)   Over the next week or so, continue taking 10-15 minutes per day to copy the rest of the article.


What you can learn from reading (and copying) this article

There are several writing skills you can learn:

·      how to introduce a topic by giving background information

·      the grammatical structures of questions

·      how to organize interview questions in an interesting sequence

·      how to relate a story effectively

·      how to use a conversational style in your writing

·      how to use dashes when adding details in a sentence.


Tell me about your experience

If you try the ‘copycat’ method, please send me an email (or add a comment below) to share your experience.


In a later post, I’ll also tell you about what I’ve been learning by copying Stephen King.

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