Writing for the United Nations


III. Pre-writing techniques


Planning a report: generating and organizing ideas

Do you suffer from writer's block? There are a few ways to overcome the problem.


A. Brainstorming
B. Mind-mapping or clustering
C. Free-writing
D. Outlining

A. Brainstorming

Having established reader and purpose, your next step in planning a text is to collect all your data and thoughts. There are several methods that can help you. One of them is to "brainstorm". Think of this as a "storm in the brain". Focus on your audience and purpose and list ideas as they come to mind, whether general or specific.

Do not pay attention to the form your brainstorm takes. You might list words, phrases or sentences or a combination of these. Do not try to organize your thoughts as you brainstorm - that will come later. This is just a technique to help free up your mind so that ideas can flow easily.

The list of ideas you considered in exercise 8 with the idea of focusing on the intended reader was the product of a brainstorm.

Try brainstorming for yourself. Exercise 9 gives you a list of subjects you could use, or think up one of your own.

[Click here for exercise 9]

B. Mind-mapping or clustering

Once you have completed a brainstorm, you may want to form those ideas into a "mind map". This is a visual representation of your ideas. Look at your brainstorm and decide if you can group some of the ideas into several major categories and subcategories. Remember to eliminate ideas that [TIP] are not vital to the report.

Draw a circle in the middle of the paper and write the purpose of your report in the circle. Draw lines out from the circle and label them with the major categories you have chosen. Then draw branches from those lines and include the subcategories. You can continue this process until you are including the actual details on the branches of the map.

A mind map can help you see your major categories and subdivisions before you make decisions about how to organize the paper. It is also a useful way for you to look at your ideas and decide, again, which ones are not vital to the report.

There some good commercial software programmes to help you draw a mind map. Some offer free trials. Search for "mind mapping" on the Internet.

[Click here for exercise 10]

C. Free-writing

Another technique that helps to generate ideas is to "free-write". Like brainstorming, this technique is a way to free up the mind, to allow it to focus on ideas rather than on accuracy and organization.

Choose one of the ideas from your brainstorm or your mind-map and write for 5 to 10 minutes on that one idea. Don't stop writing. If you can't think of anything to write, just write "I can't think of anything else at the moment ...". The goal is to keep writing, to keep the pen or pencil in contact with the paper (or keep your fingers on the keyboard). Don't stop to change or correct anything; just keep going. You might want to set a timer.

This technique does not appeal to everyone, but it is worth a try. It often works.

[Click here for exercise 11]

D. Outlining

Organizing information for long reports is a difficult task. Having decided on the purpose and the audience and on what to include in the report, the next step is to develop an overall plan. If you have created a mind map, you can use it to help to produce an outline.

At this point, you might want to think about the method of organization that will be most effective for the report. For example, reports of the Secretary-General often use a "cause-effect" mode or a "problem-solution" mode ─ or a combination of the two. Other reports may call for a "comparison/contrast" type of organization

Unlike a mind map, an outline is a linear way of organizing information and may not appeal to all writers. But it can be a very effective way to help you to categorize ideas into major categories and supporting details.

Write your title at the top of the page. Then list your major categories as headings, with the details lined up underneath.

You can use words, phrases or whole sentences as your major headings. Just be consistent in your choices.

[Click here for exercise 12]


  | I. Introduction | II. Reader and purpose | III. Pre-writing techniques | IV. Standard report formats | V. Sentence and paragraph development | VI. Clarity in writing | VII. Writing a summary | VIII. Writing conclusions and recommendations | IX. Some last tips |  

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