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What is the most difficult and challenging aspect of your job? For many people who are required, as part of their professional responsibilities, to draft coherent written reports, summaries, memoranda and correspondence, writing is the task they dread most. Moreover, many employers complain that the one area in which they find their employees most lacking confidence and competence is the ability to write clearly, succinctly and, accordingly, effectively.

When I was in private practice, the senior partner of my law firm used to tell me, “Remember, Janie, the time you spend thinking is critical and compensable.” In my work, I see a lot of really horrible writing produced by attorneys, as well as other professionals. Frequently, the biggest flaw in the written documents I review is the writer’s transparent failure to engage in careful and detailed analysis, research of key aspects of the arguments presented such as logical cause and effect, and consideration of the validity of opposing viewpoints and conclusions. In short, the written product reveals the author’s dearth of critical thinking.

Preparing to write is the single most important aspect of the process of writing. Yet it is seldom the focus of writing courses.

In my estimation, it is impossible to be a top-notch writer if you have not developed for yourself a method of preparation that enables you to think critically about what you will say to your readers before you actually write a single word.

There is no single preparation method that works for everyone and individual writers likely take different approaches depending upon the type of product they are called upon to produce at any given moment. Moreover, the development of a workable process will undoubtedly evolve over time, changing in response to the writer’s ever-expanding knowledge base, confidence and level of experience.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I am going to be writing on this topic, exploring the various ways that accomplished writers approach the art of preparing to write and offering suggestions to aid you in developing a method that will work for you or fine-tuning the manner in which you normally prepare.

Think about your writing habits, taking a few extra moments to notice and reflect upon the steps you take in preparation, if any. Jot down a few observations, leave a comment or two or e-mail me your thoughts.

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