Now that you've developed a systematic approach to writing based on the checklist you read about in my previous column, you're feeling the power. I can tell. You look more confident. You're less reluctant to tackle that next challenging assignment, more eager to stake out your position in writing.
So here you are. You've made your way, point by point, through my eight-point checklist. You've (1) identified your purpose, (2) organized your thoughts into coherent, logical order, (3) gathered supporting information, (4) thought about your reader, (5) developed a persuasive strategy, (6) written your first draft, (7) revised your text and (8) proofread your document. Nice going.
By taking this systematic approach to writing, you've completed a particularly complex assignment without your normal anxiety attacks, meltdowns and endless procrastination. Well done. Pat yourself on the back. Savor the empowerment that comes from having developed a reliable method. It's a good feeling, isn't it? Your neurotransmitters are on overdrive. Enjoy the dopamine rush. You've earned it.
So now the moment has arrived. You're ready to send. Or are you?
By taking a systematic approach to planning, drafting, revising and proofreading your writing, you've increased your odds for success, but how do you know if what you're about to send is truly good?
What you need — you guessed it — is another checklist, this one not for creating text but for evaluating it. Based on my experience in reading 25 million writing samples and student papers over my 42 years of teaching (I exaggerate — I've been teaching only 41 years), this four-step method may also be applied to evaluating other people's writing.
1. Begin by looking, not reading. Check for consistency in format, headings, style and punctuation. Are your pages numbered sequentially? If you're working on hard copy, did the printer skip any pages? Are headings within the same category consistent in font and style? Are items in vertical lists numbered correctly and punctuated consistently? Are they parallel (for example, are they all sentences or all fragments, and not a mix)? Have you forgotten your attachment?
2. Check for clarity. Begin by reading your headings. Do they convey your main conclusions and principal points? Are they arranged in logical order? Next read the first sentence of each paragraph. Do your topic sentences indicate where you're going next? When needed, do your transitions such as for these reasons and despite these concerns link the thought of one paragraph to another? Have you offered sufficient detail and examples to illustrate your points? Given your reader's knowledge and sophistication, have you offered the right detail, in the right language?
3. Check for accuracy and errors. Double-check your facts. Confirm the spelling of all names and titles, especially those of your recipient. Although you proofread your document earlier, check once more for errors in word choice, grammar and spelling.
4. Take one last look. Have you accomplished your purpose? Go back to the first question you asked yourself when you began writing. What do you want your reader to do or think as a result of reading your message? Is your persuasive strategy right for your goal?
Now take a deep breath and send. It's too late to change anything now.
Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.wilbers.com.