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Writing Advice From An Elementary School Cafeteria

Today is my son’s last day of kindergarten. I had lunch with him for the last time of the school year yesterday (I’ve made an effort to do so on a regular basis since last August, when I first came up with this post idea). In his cafeteria, there’s a random banner about The Writing Process (the photo to the right). I’m not sure of the banner’s origin, and I’m not sure which grade they start teaching this stuff in (I know it’s not kindergarten), but I know it’s writing advice we could all use to improve our work. I’ve added a few additional thoughts to the outline from the banner (feel free to add your own advice in the comments).1. Pre-Writing

  • Brainstorm Ideas – grab a piece of paper, head to the white board or get out your iPad and start getting all your ideas out of your head and into a more manageable format
  • Organize, Decide on Text Structure - what format will your piece be? How long? Will you have sidebars, pull quotes or infographics to break up the text? Each format has its own flow and requirements – thinking about the end before you begin is a good idea.
  • Story Maps, Webs, Lists – this is all about the flow of your ideas. How will you present the start, middle and end of your information? What headings or sub-headings will you use along the way? Think of your writing as a GPS system – what queues will you give the reader along the way so they will know where they are, and have a good idea about where you’re taking them.

2. Drafting

  • Create a Rough Draft - you know your topic, you have an idea how you want the information to flow, now you just need to get it written. Resist the temptation to revise and edit as you go along, just get it all down there for now. If you hit a spot you’re not sure about, just make a note like [THIS WOULD BE A GOOD PLACE FOR A STAT ON X] and keep writing. The goal is to get all the text down – if you stop during the process, it will take you much longer.

3. Revisions

  • Make Changes to Improve Written Work – if you were successful in Step 2, you’ll now have to go through and rewrite sections. I usually read the article and see where I have gaps or need make things more clear. Sometimes I’ll read it out loud, as it reveals much more.
  • Add/Delete words, Ideas or Details – I always come back to the timeless Elements of Style advice, “Omit Needless Words” when revising. What can you take out without changing the flow or meaning of your writing? Take it out. Less is more.

4. Editing

Notice ‘Editing’ comes after ‘Revisions’? I’ve always thought of edit/revise as one step, but it makes sense that you would edit your final draft, not things you may end up cutting out during the revision process. This is a more logical and efficient approach. Don’t worry about editing until your final draft – that makes a lot of sense to me.

  • Proofread for correct:
    • Spelling – don’t trust spell check, if you’re not sure, look it up (you know, in a dictionary)
    • Grammar usage – this one is difficult if you aren’t a grammar whiz – if you’re not, have someone help you on the editing step of the process
    • Capitalizations – this one is really geared towards elementary school, but yes, you should capitalize letters at the beginning of sentences
    • Punctuation – again, geared towards children, but make sure you’re not using commas where there should be periods – or dashes where there should be semicolons (get it?)

5. Publishing

  • Final Draft – if you follow steps 1-4, you should just get here. Any great writer will tell you there’s no such thing as a final draft, you can always improve it, but at some point (usually a deadline), you’ll need to let it go
  • Share - I’m sure this banner is at least five years old. Think of how different the meaning of ‘Share’ is today? In elementary school, they’re suggesting you share your writing with the audience – this is the event that signals completion of the writing process. Outside of elementary school, in the world we work in each day, it’s still the same. The last thing you do in the writing process is share your writing.

Reality Check

Can you follow this process start to finish when you’re on deadline and want to get a blog post out before lunch? Probably not. Few of us have enough time to plan and construct words the way we’d like to (or the way we did when we were in school). As a perfect example, I didn’t follow this process for the post you’re reading. Would the post have been better if I had? Maybe. Could this process help you write better white papers, press releases and other marketing content? I think so. Could it help you write better love letters? Maybe not.

I hope you enjoyed this post more than I enjoyed the Sloppy Joes at Pates Creek Elementary this year. Is this your first time reading Journalistics? Please subscribe to the RSS feed (it’s over there to the right). Thanks!

About Jeremy Porter

Jeremy Porter is co-founder and editor of Journalistics, a lively blog about public relations and journalism topics.

  • http://prinpink.wordpress.com Krista

    Best advice to ever come out of a school cafeteria! It’s funny how simple things are when you’re learning in elementary school and how complicated they get as we grow older.

  • http://mymediainfo.com/ Renee

    It’s really amazing how we were taught this writing process all throughout our schooling years, starting in elementary school , and yet many of us forget or completely ignore this process regularly (myself included). I suppose in our defense, time and other obligations are much more limiting than there were in elementary school. A few pieces of advice: in addition to reading your writing out loud when editing, it also helps to try and read your writing backwards. This is especially helpful when you have already read your writing over a few times. Also, if time permits of course, it is also helpful to take a short break from the writing and come back to it in both the pre-writing and editing steps.

    • Jeremy Porter

      Thanks Renee and Krista – readers like you are the reason I keep blogging.

  • Haley

    Maybe it’s true, “Everything I needed to know I learned in kindergarten”.

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  • http://www.twitter.com/rsmithing Richard

    Wow, very practical and to the point. Let’s get more of these in more cafeterias!

  • http://www.theBcompany.com Beth Hilton

    Thanks, Jeremy, I loved reading this (having a Kindergartener myself!). I’lll share an additional note on journal writing. Last week, while on vacation with my brother’s family, my sis-in-law asked me to review my 3rd grade niece’s travel journal to give inspirational feedback. In her journal, I found lots of factual info about “seeing this” and “doing that” in Florida, but not much in the way of personal insight. So, I came up with “The Two F’s of Writing a Journal”…which are to include both “Facts” and “Feelings.” Simple, but I was so happy to see the light bulb go on in her eyes as she dug into writing a bit more on each day’s page.

  • Dwayne

    I almost want to print out that image, frame it, and hang it above my desk!

    I tend to combine stages 2, 3 and 4 and call it “my writing process”… which of course leads to long, drawn out, inefficient writing sessions. Anyone else have experience with teasing out the steps? Does it speed up the process? Allow for greater creativity?

    New to the blog and loving it! Cheers…

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