Avoid this deadly writing mistake

A man with pink hair looks at the camera with a lens held to his eye.Have you ever wondered why you can never seem to get a document written until its deadline is looming?

You might have been paralysed by writer’s block for weeks. Yet when you realise it’s due in at 5 o’clock today, you’re miraculously able to get on with it.

It’s as if you’ve found a secret superpower. And in a sense, you have. The only trouble is that it often comes with a hefty price tag.


Deadline threat

The brain has evolved over millions of years to protect you.

The only reason you’re finally writing the report today is it now sees the deadline as a threat to your safety. (I’m assuming it’s not. If it is, you should probably stop reading this and have a quick word with HR instead.)

So it ignores the countless other ‘urgent’ tasks you’ve been dreaming up for weeks. Finally you can fire up Word and crack on.


Hidden trap

But there’s a hidden trap here. The brain is now so focused on getting the damn thing written that it often forgets to address the needs and wants of your target audience. So you might get the report done – and on time – but it could completely misfire.

Forgetting the reader is always a risk when we’re sat typing on our own, far away from whoever will have to struggle through the finished product.

In fact, that’s usually the prime suspect when professional writing goes wrong.

Granted, your colleagues and clients are probably used to getting writer-focused documents. Yours may just end up like all the others they’ve had to endure.

A cat wearing cool sunglasses.

All about me-ow: Too many documents focus on ourselves



So nothing terrible will happen when you do submit the report (hopefully).

But nothing good will happen either. At best, it will be average and do little to help you bring about positive change.

The trouble is that it can take an almost superhuman level of willpower to refocus on your audience before you write, especially when under pressure.

It’s not just that we often put off writing documents until they feel like an existential threat, forcing our brain to focus on our own needs. It’s that the longer we spend on them, the easier it is to forget that it’s not all about us.

Yet there is a way to shift your brain back to your reader’s priorities …


Six steps to reader focus

1. Download and print this reader profile questionnaire.

2. Complete it (with a pen, not just in your head).

3. Keep it beside you and refer to it while you plan your report. (I like planning documents with mind maps, but use whatever method you prefer.)

4. Put a question mark by anything you still need to check or find out.

5. Do any extra research needed to replace those question marks.

6. Then, and only then, write your document. (Check out this guide to writing quickly for help with that.)

None of this is wasting time. Steps 1–5 should take most of the pain out of step 6. What is a waste is writing a document that nobody reads or that gets a bad reaction (or no reaction at all).

This simple, six-step process will make your report stand out for all the right reasons and take you nearer to achieving your goal – whatever that may be.

image credits: Natalia Blauth / Unsplash , otsphoto / Shutterstock