THE PREWRITING STAGE PLANNING
.In the prewriting stage, writers discover the dimensions of their topic. In this stage writers use a number of techniques to discover everything theyneed to know to write clearly. They treat this stage carefully. Experienced writers ask and clearly answer eight important questions .
1. Who is my audience?
2. What is my goal in this writing situation?
3. What constraints affect this situation?
4. What are the basic facts? V
5. What is the expected final form of the document?
6. What is an effective outline?
7. What format and visual aids should I use?
8. What tone should I use?
As a writer you must ask these questions. The more you clarify the answers, the more easily you will generate the document. The following sections look at each question in more detail.
Who Is My Audience?
The audience is the person or people who will read your document. The more you clarify who they are, the better you can write to them. You should ask these questions about your audience .
- Who will read this document?
- How much do “they know about the topic?
- Why do they need the document?
- What will they do with it or because of it?
In every writing situation, you must clarify the answers to these important questions. The answers will vary in different situations. Suppose y u are the only person in your office who has a thorough grasp of Page maker, a desktop publishing program. And suppose that you lose a lot of time from your own work because you have to answer questions from people who don’t know how to use the program. To stop these interruptions, you decide to write a brief manual. To begin your manual, you ask and answer the planning questions. Who will read the manual? The readers will be the people who work with the computer program in my office. How much do they know? This question has two sub questions: How much do they know about the type of com-outer we use? And how much do they know about Page maker? They all know how to operate Macintosh computers, but most don’t know how to use the Page maker program. Why do they need the manual? They need it to give them basic information about the software program. What will they do with or because of the manual? They will use it to guide themselves through the basic operations and because of it they will become -more independent .
What Is My Goal in This Situation?
You actually have two goals: to communicate a specific message and to . achieve a specific purpose. In other words, ‘you ask and answer two questions:
- What is my basic message?
- What is my purpose?
In general, your message is. your content; your purpose is how you want to affect your audience. As you continue your planning of the Page maker manual, you would answer the two questions this way:
My basic content will be specific beginner-level procedures in Page maker- such as opening a document, designing a page, or placing text. My purpose is to inform readers so that they can perform basic tasks independently.
What Constraints Affect This Situation?
Constraints are physical and psychological factors that affect your ability to write the. document and your readers’ By thinking about constraints, such as time and money, you achieve a clear picture of how you can produce the document. Experienced writers think through constraints carefully in order to eliminate frustration. Basic constraints are , listed in the left-hand column below. Each constraint has a different implication for the writer and for the reader.
Let’s consider the constraints on you as a writer of the Pagemaker manual. How much time can you devote to this project? To write a manual requires hours of actual writing, field testing to check if you described the functions correctly, rewriting, and producing the final document. If all these tasks demand, say, thirty hours, but in the next month you have only ten hours free, you have a problem. You need to drop the pr~ject, shorten the ‘scope of the manual, find someone else to do it, or rearrange your schedule to find more time.
How long should it be? While the traditional answer is “long enough to cover the topic sufficiently,” you know that people will ignore a long, complicated document, so it has to be relatively short. Will the project cost money? Probably not, if you do it at the office or lab and use all the available facilities and paper. But suppose you want to put it in a nice hard cover to protect it; you must purchase the cover. How will you produce the document? You will use a computer program and printer that you have easy access to.
Let’s consider the same constraints from your readers’ viewpoint. How much time will they need to spend reading before they can use the program? Since mCist people will claim that they are “too busy” or that they want to “get right at it,” you need to make the information concise and easy to find. How long can it be? Most people tend to ignore’ thick manuals, so yours can’t be too long. Is cost important? No, because the reader will not be buying the manual. Are there physical limits? Yes, readers must be able to handle the manual while they are sitting at the computer. So it h as to lie flat and not take up too much space. Then too it must be stored near the computer, Will it be easy to read? Yes, because you’ will use a laser printer.
What Are The Basic Facts?
.Determining the basic facts for your doey-,mentis a key planning activity. You must spend time collecting these facts by reading, interviewing, or observing. ‘For the Page maker manual, you must decide exactly which procedures you want to include. You also need to know the basic facts about each procedure. You would begin to list the procedures, determining the items in the list by considering your audience’s needs: You might recall the operations that you have been asked to demonstrate repeatedly. You might ask some of the users what operations they would like explained, or watch to see what mistakes they make. In order to be sure you explain the steps correctly, you might have to work through all,the operations, taking notes for yourself.
What Is the Expected Final Form?
Many technical writing documents require a particular final form. If you know what form is expected, you have a place to start. For instance, a report on an experiment always has a section on materials and methods, so the writer can plan that section, then go on to another. In many companies, certain reports must always use the same standard form. All trip reports, progress reports, or position papers must have certain information . in the introduction followed by certain information in other specified section Knowing what is expected makes documents easier to write because you know which information to include and where to place it. For the Page ranker manual, you know that a brief manual usually has two sections .
One section explains the function of each main part, and the other section gives instructions for performing basic procedures. You want to set up your manual in. a similar fashion, explaining what certain items mean when they appear on the screen and then explaining the procedures.
What Is an Effective Outline?
As you begin to think about drafting, you should first construct a preliminary outline. The indented outline is common,”‘an informal list of major and minor points you want to make. You arrange your material into an order that will guide you as you write. Without such an order, you can easily go off on tangents. or needlessly repeat material. The standard form of the document will often provide you with a broad outline, and results of your investigations during the planning stage will provide you with the fine points~ Outlines are treated .
What Format and Visual Aids Shall I Use?
You need to decide how your page will look. It is important to select a format and choose visual aids that will help and not hinder your message. The two basic format elements are margins (the distance type is set from the left edge of the page) and heads (the phrases that indicate the contents of the section following). You must decide on the size of your margins and the look and placement of your heads. If you have an advanced word processing program, you must also decide which font to use. These decisions constitute your style sheet, a description of the specific margins, type, and placement of heads: Most sophisticated word processing programs, Microsoft Word, for instance, allow you to determine these before you type. Then you can automatically control them as you write. For your Page maker manual, you must decide how wide to set. the margins, how far to indent paragraphs and lists, how to indicate levels of heads, and how to indicate major sections.
You must also choose visual aids – pictures, tables, graphs, and drawings that clarify the topic. Since visual aids will often help convey meaning more clearly than words, experienced technical writers rely heavily on them. Suppose, for instance, you need to tell people how to interact with a certain Page maker screen – say, the page-setup screen, on which the user arranges margins and other technical details. The easiest way to explain the process to your audience is to make a visual aid of the screen. The more visuals you can select before you start to write, the easier your writing will be.
What Tone Should I Use?
As you begin to draft, you must consider the tone of your document. Unfortunately,
tone isn’t a very objective term. It means what your writing sounds like. Should it sound funny or serious? Should you give silly examples or “in” jokes from work? Technical writers usually try to sound serious, but not so serious that they sound like robots. For the Page maker manual, you probably would choose a straightforward tone people want to absorb the content, not be entertained.
The time you take to answer the planning questions will be amply repaid. Below is a checklist to help you with the planning stage.
CHECKLIST FOR PLANNING