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Gathering Information and Organizing Your Writing

Gathering information

The first step in the writing process is generating ideas. This involves three steps: identifying the purpose of your writing, identifying your audience, and creating a freestyle list of ideas. The output of this step is an unstructured set of ideas that you can take as input into the second step in the writing process: gathering information.

You need to gather information on the ideas you generated during the first step. Often, you’ll know what you need to write about from experience. But sometimes you need to do additional research. If your writing task is similar to another of your documents, consider using that other document as a source of information. However, overusing previous sources could stifle your writing skills.

You can conduct two types of research to gather information — primary research and secondary research. Primary research is information gathered firsthand — by you or others — by conducting interviews, making observations, or reading source material such as customer letters.

Secondary research relies on getting information by analyzing existing primary research material. Sources of secondary research include newspaper reports, product evaluations, and marketing material.

There are drawbacks to both approaches. Primary research is time consuming, so this avenue may not be an option if deadlines are tight. Primary research may also be skewed by your own biases. Of course, if you rely on secondary research, you may be subject to the biases of others.

Imagine this scenario. Joan is the marketing manager for a computer graphics company. She wants to write a proposal to develop an innovative new web application. Her ideas list includes ideas such as features and functions, programming languages, and development effort. She now wants to research her ideas in detail.

Let’s see each idea to learn how Joan researched it.

  • Features and functions — She conducts primary research into innovative features and functions the product should have by interviewing the engineering manager and his team.
  • Programming languages — She conducts primary research into the programming languages to be used by interviewing the engineering manager.
  • Development effort — She conducts primary research into development by interviewing the head of the program office. She wants to understand the cost, time, and complexity involved in product development. She also reads past product proposals to get an idea of how much effort was needed for similar products.
  • Market window — Joan carries out secondary research into the market window for the new product by reading marketing analyses from the Marketing Department. Her research shows that the new product needs to be on the market by the end of the year.
  • Customer acceptance — Joan conducts primary research on customer acceptance when she interviews several potential customers regarding features, support issues, and product pricing.
  • Performance — She conducts primary research into expected system performance by interviewing the engineering manager.


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The 3-step Process to Generate Writing Ideas

Identifying the writing purpose

Have you ever felt daunted at the thought of writing a business document to a tight deadline? It’s hard not to feel anxious in such situations. Most people find it difficult to write under pressure and often feel dissatisfied with their results.

There’s a five-step process that’ll help you produce quality results when writing under pressure. The first step involves generating ideas. The second step is gathering information, and then organizing your ideas. The fourth step is writing the draft. The final step involves revising and editing the draft. You’ll find this approach useful because each step builds on the previous one. 

The steps aren’t lengthy or difficult. And you can ease yourself into the task by starting with the basics and working toward a final draft.

The first step in the writing process is generating ideas, which involves three steps: identifying the purpose of your writing, identifying your audience, and creating a freestyle list of the main ideas.

But, let’s see each step of generating ideas to learn more about it.

Identifying purpose of writing

Identifying the purpose of your writing is important because it enables you to target your efforts as you generate ideas.

For example, a marketing director says the purpose of a proposal document is to get resources for new product development.

Identifying audience

Identifying your audience helps you visualize who you’re talking to. This helps your words flow. It also helps you identify what to write.

The marketing director identifies the executive team as the audience for the proposal. To address his audience, the director includes themes such as “market share,” “profitability,” and “return on investment.”


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Reducing Distractions When Writing

External distractions

Your workplace is full of potential distractions. You’re probably usually inundated with queries, requests, and interruptions of all kinds from coworkers and managers. And this doesn’t even include ways you distract yourself. When you’re writing under pressure to meet a deadline, you must take control of your time. Limit the distractions caused by other people, and avoid distracting yourself.

Many distractions are caused by others. Face-to-face conversations can eat up valuable time and prevent you from accomplishing your writing tasks. You also likely get a lot of e-mail and numerous phone calls daily. Deal with urgent tasks as swiftly as possible so that you can stay focused on your writing.

You can minimize distractions in a number of ways. You may have said that you politely let people know you’re busy. Also, don’t constantly check e-mail or phone messages. And where possible, delegate tasks to others.

Let’s see the guidelines to find out more information.

Let people know you’re busy

People may distract you with trivial matters when they don’t realize how busy you are. Politely explain to your coworkers that you need to get your writing task done and would appreciate not being disturbed for the time being. Say you’ll address their concerns after you’ve completed your writing task. They’ve all likely had the same experience before and will leave you alone to do your writing unless something truly urgent arises.


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Effective Decision Making

Eliminating Groupthink

Groupthink is the tendency of group members to allow conformity and team loyalty to guide their decisions. It also inspires a sense of invulnerability, as if the team’s decisions will always be infallible.

When a team falls prey to groupthink, it censors dissenting opinions, seeks unanimity at any cost, and fails to seek other solutions.

You can overcome groupthink by using the following techniques:

  • initially downplay the strength of your own opinions,
  • assign a rotating devil’s advocate role to members of the group seek feedback from an external expert

Initially downplay the strength of your own opinions

If you know that your opinion will influence others in your group, you should avoid expressing it in the early stages, otherwise some members may simply adopt your view rather than try to generate ideas themselves.

You can certainly contribute ideas, but do not re-emphasize them; otherwise people may take them as a mandate. Similarly, avoid using persuasive language that reveals your preferences.

Assign a rotating devil’s advocate role to members of the group

The devil’s advocacy technique received its name from a traditional practice within the Roman Catholic Church. Before a church member was elevated to sainthood, the College of Cardinals appointed an official to investigate and express all the reasons the candidate’s canonization should not be approved.

You can apply this technique by appointing one team member to criticize potential ideas, explaining why they may not work. Nominate a different person to play this role during each meeting. Rotating the responsibility means members will never take the role for granted and that there will always be a dissenting voice to the adverse effects of groupthink.

Seek feedback from an external expert

Decision-making groups can become insulated, conformity-seeking units if they spurn input from outside sources. You must ensure that the person you choose to consult has sound knowledge and experience of the subject you want to discuss. You must also check that this expert has no vested interest in the actions of your team.

Once you have established that his knowledge and motivation are sound, you can ask for the expert’s opinion on both the decision-making process and the potential solutions identified by the group.

If you use the above techniques, you can overcome groupthink in a way that eliminates its unfavorable presence and keeps your team’s atmosphere creative.