Librarians and Technology #9: Focused Writing Requires Discipline (Part 2)

Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD

Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD

May 07, 2019

In part one of “Focused Writing Requires Discipline,” we discussed eliminating stumbling blocks to starting writing projects. While recognizing that technology is an essential tool for information professionals, it’s also distracting and takes time away from projects that require focus and attention.

Writing is one of the most important skills for special librarians, and no matter the length of the document, requires focus, attention, and hard work. Controlling technology and devices that compete for our attention requires discipline. As we focus on each task and activity, setting aside uninterrupted time to write, we accomplish our goals smoothly and efficiently.

Writing it all down

As you write, summarize your ideas and describe the project. You’ll find that suddenly the connections will become part of your discussion. Before you know it, you’ll be analyzing, comparing, and synthesizing. It’s the last piece, the essential step that emerges as the critical components and connects your conclusion, introduction, and abstract. If you are writing a piece that requires references and citations, put them in often and frequently while writing the draft. You’ll appreciate not having to find them later.

Of course, all of this writing takes discipline. Writing requires blocks of undivided time. Focused and uninterrupted time. Take advantage of recording your ideas so you can go back and mine them again and again as you solidify your argument and polish the report or memo.

Audience matters

As you craft your report or memo, consider who the document must influence: your immediate supervisor, the division head, or even the purchasing committee. Did you write the document for a granting committee or for external reviewers? Are you using the correct language for the intended audience? Is your executive summary full of jargon that’s mysterious to the general reader?

As with all presentations, focus on who you are writing for and the desired outcome. You might need to write the document or report in several versions with one for a general audience and one for information professionals and an internal audience.

If the report will reside on the information center’s website, consider the terminology required for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Understanding SEO is becoming an important skill for special librarians. Connect your report to search engines using targeted and honed natural language tags, keywords, and links. Build in links to your own collections, your own databases, and catalogs to drive researchers toward less explored and little utilized materials, archives, and records.

Organizing information is part of focused writing

Can’t get to the organizing part or even the writing part? Is the information overwhelming your ability to get started writing or revising?

  • Sit with another information professional or colleague or even a tolerant friend, and talk about the project, interconnecting ideas, and the evidence.
  • Record your descriptions of the elements of your project. To improve your focus and use your writing time more efficiently, record your ideas, jot down notes that define the project, recommendations, and projected outcomes.
  • Identify your audience and purpose.
  • Connect the elements together.
  • Consider the projected outcome of your report or memo.

Focused revision

A polished report or memo requires focused revision. Structure your report and its subdivisions in a logical manner. As with all writing, you need an introduction, the body of information or evidence, along with appropriate descriptions of technology, equipment, materials, ideas and/or research, and a conclusion or recommendation. All the rest, the miscellaneous materials, supporting documentation, and/or procedures, go in the appendix.

Write the executive summary, abstract, or introduction last. After all, you don’t really know what you’ve written until you’ve finished the document. The executive summary, abstract, or introductory paragraph contains the most important aspects of the document or report. Remember, it may be the only part of a report that your department head or decision makers read.

A concise and tightly written summary of the project or technology is what ultimately makes or breaks your recommendation. Focus your writing on the key aspects of the project. Write in a concise, focused manner and make the connections for the audience.

The internal paragraphs should contain a discussion of the project or product, the methodology, evidence, or descriptions of what was studied. The inner paragraphs of the report or memo must focus on your project or recommendation, how it fits or suits the information center.

The conclusion is, of course, a reiteration of the introduction using different yet parallel vocabulary. Conclusions echo the introduction or summary with a coherent wrap up of exactly what you wrote about and your recommendation or evaluation.

All the supporting evidence or documentation belongs in the appendices along with suggested readings and references to websites and online resources.

Evaluate the repetition. Does it help your audience process the information? Eliminate extraneous repetition and hone the rest.

Summing it up

Writing is a hard yet critical skill for special librarians. It takes discipline and concentration along with periods free from the distractions of technology and social media to complete a written project. Breaking writing into small, easily accomplished components decreases stress and increases success and rapid completion.

Be disciplined. Set time aside to write in a distraction-free environment. Focus on and complete one small task at a time, building up to the whole. Revise after you write, revise after you’ve crafted a solid draft. Focus the written revisions for specific audiences and to elicit the response you require. Don’t be afraid to cut and eliminate redundancies.

Writing requires discipline and a regular schedule. Write regularly, and your project will “write itself” into a completed document.

Some suggested readings:

David Rock, Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long (NY: Harper Collins, 2013).

Screen/Life Balance – website and newsletter by Catherine Price, science journalist & author of How to Break Up with Your Phone

My next blog post will look at librarians, technology, and deep thinking or diving into a new subject or skills domain.

<a href="" target="_self">Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD</a>

Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD

Miriam B. Kahn, MLS, PhD provides education and consulting for libraries, archives, corporations, and individuals. See Miriam’s pieces for Lucidea covering library technology and skills for special librarians. Read her earlier post exploring focused writing.

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