Organising your writing

There is more to plain writing than using the right words and writing sentences that are correct. The way you organise your writing helps the reader understand what you have to say. Organising your writing involves thinking about:

  • Your document as a whole
  • The separate parts of your document
  • Clues and signals (e.g. headings) that show how you have organised it

Titles and headings

Use titles and headings to describe and anticipate content. Use them also to provide an outline or summary, to help the reader locate information and break up your writing so that it becomes easier to read and understand. Size and type can be used to show significance.

Setting out

Follow the ‘house style’ (if there is one) for things like headings, numbers, abbreviations, etc. Otherwise, use a recognised style manual, eg. Style manual for authors, editors and printers, AGPS Press, Canberra. Above all, be consistent!

Document plan

Use a brief introduction to set the scene. Arrange sections and paragraphs so that main ideas and points have most prominence and space. As a rule, parts that come first and last are likely to be read first and most carefully. Use a conclusion to summarise. As soon as you have finished, stop! When arranging things in order of importance, give priority to what you think your reader(s) will want to read first.

Paragraphs

Use paragraphs to arrange writing in management segments. Write each paragraph to make a particular point or convey a particular idea. Make sure that each consists of relevant material only. Material that is not relevant should go elsewhere or be discarded. Use a ‘key’ or ‘lead’ sentence to describe the purpose and/or substance of each paragraph. Use other sentences to provide arguments, descriptions, elaborations, examples, propositions, etc to support the first one. Make sure other sentences follow in logical sequence, eg chronology, significance. Paragraphs, like sentences, should follow logically from each other. Try to use opening and/or closing sentences to link paragraphs.

Revision

Document revision involves checking content, organisation, language and design. Aids to revision include:

  • Using a checklist Example (PDF 123KB)
  • Using computer program spell and other checks (beware the limitations of these!)
  • Referring to other (when showing others, make sure you give them both your copy and any task description)
  • Referring to instructions or task statement (NB: compressing text and/or reducing font size are unacceptable as means to reduce document length and/or keep within page limits)

 


Things to avoid
Things Good Writers Do that Poor Writers Don't