I’ve been meaning to follow-up on Shaun’s recent bog post about “Explain More” when writing user help. Zonker’s blog post this morning on how to write an interview finally motivated me to get this blog post done.

One of my favorite sayings in a work environment is “Plan the work and work the plan”. This applies to writing as well.

One of the two major takeaways I had last year after attending the first Writing Open Source conference was the importance of planning. At least for me, almost of all the heavy lifting and hard work is done in the planning phase. (Not that writing and editing are easy either, but the planning for me is where my brain works the hardest).

When I was in school, especially high school, all of my English teachers required an outline when writing a term paper. School was fairly easy for me and I’d just write the paper and then do the outline. Oh, how I wish I had listened to them and learned those skills then!

It’s fascinating to me reading novels and then reading about or listening to an author talk about the years they spent researching their book. After last year, it’s finally clicked for me. (Having just finished io9‘s recent book club selection, The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi I found his answers in the book club Q&A session fascinating, especially his research on Thailand and the Thai culture).

Planning your writing will help you connect with your readers, stay on message and help you faster. (Faster isn’t always better but you may spend less time getting stuck or if you do get stuck, be able to write the next section that you’ve planned and come back and finish where you were stuck).

Whether it’s user help, a blog post or an interview, spend some time thinking about what you want to write about and who your audience is. Your readers will thank you.