24 June 2010
Word count: 645
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
John Forde’s ‘Power of One’ theory states the fundamental point for clear writing:
"Good writing is one good idea, clearly expressed."
It’s easy for more than one main idea to appear in a document. Frequently we don’t even notice that more than one idea has crept in. But if it does, the document loses impact, because it’s harder for the reader to process mentally.
How to focus on a single idea
The value of the TASTE writing process comes from the way it helps you to achieve the aim of clearly expressing one good idea.
The 5-stage process (Think, Arrange, Sketch, Trim and Edit) may seem to take a lot more time than just sitting down and writing off the top of your head. But it doesn’t. It actually saves time both for you and for your readers.
So let’s do a quick review of how to use it.
How to use the TASTE process
Take a few moments to THINK about why you’re writing; who your readers are and what they expect; what action you want the readers to take; and which details will support your purpose. Honest – it only takes a couple of minutes to do this – even for very long documents!
We’ve written several posts on the ARRANGE stage – and some of the most useful ways to organise a document. Take another look at the story structure and how you can prepare it. Again, this takes only a few minutes.
When you first SKETCH a document, go ahead and write down everything you think of. This will help you get the ideas onto the screen (or paper). While you’re drafting, follow the structure you prepared at the ARRANGE stage.
But remember – because you’re writing quickly at this stage, your thoughts may stray from the main point. This is where you might go off-course and start to include ideas that don’t relate to the purpose.
That’s why it’s absolutely vital that you TRIM the document for clarity. And to do that requires that you concentrate on the one main point of the document.
So go back to the why – the purpose statement you wrote at the THINK stage, as well as the details (sub-points) you listed to support that purpose.
Then, read through every section and paragraph of the document. Does each section cover only one of those sub-points? If it doesn’t, then take out irrelevant information and move it to the section where it belongs (or delete it entirely).
Does each paragraph cover only one detail of the section it’s in? If it does not – rewrite it. Move irrelevant information to another paragraph (or delete it entirely).
Within each paragraph, read every sentence. Does each one support the point of the paragraph? If it doesn’t – delete it or put it into another paragraph.
Does each sentence include only one idea? If not, then split it into two or more sentences.
And finally, have you included the action that you want the reader to take? If not, then add it. If the action involves several steps, it’s probably a good idea to number them or list them as bullet points. This will make them stand out more clearly.
The TRIM stage does take longer than the others. But this is where you discover how clearly you have expressed your one idea.
By the time you get to the EDIT stage, you’ve probably caught most or all of the spelling, punctuation and grammar problems. But of course it’s still important to do a final check. And if possible, ask someone else to proofread the document for you. A new pair of eyes can spot things that you’re blinded to as the document’s writer.
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