Establishing Goals in Technical Writing

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  • 0:01 A Plethora of Post-Its
  • 0:52 The Importance of…
  • 1:21 How to Establish Goals
  • 6:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Suzanne Sweat

Suzanne has taught 12 years in the NC Public School System and three years at Campbell University. She has a master's degree in English Education.

It's important to establish goals before you begin writing so that you know who you're writing for and what you're writing about. This video provides suggestions for how to establish goals in technical writing.

A Plethora of Post-Its

I have a confession to make: I am a list maker. Each morning, I write down everything I need to accomplish that day on a Post-it note. I sometimes find myself making three or four lists that spawn from my original set of goals. I live by those Post-its. There is such a sense of accomplishment for me when I complete an item on my list and get to cross it off. My friends make fun of me for having so many lists, but I know what happens when I don't have them - I become a slug. That's right. If I don't have a set of goals I plan to accomplish, I will sit on my couch, turn on the TV, and stay in the same spot for hours. Without goals, I don't get anything done.

Writing requires goals too. If we fail to make a plan for what we want to say, our thoughts may never make it onto paper.

The Importance of Establishing Goals

Establishing goals for your communication will also ensure that your writing is clear and focused and that your audience is able to quickly understand your message.

To help you remember why and how to establish goals, I suggest using G.O.A.L.S. as an acronym.

  • Gather information
  • Determine your outcome
  • Identify your audience
  • Look at potential problems
  • Provide specific details

How to Establish Goals

Let's start with gathering information. Before you can really establish a goal for your writing, you need to know what you plan to write about. No matter what your topic, it's important to gather information before you begin writing so that you know every detail you need to include in your communication.

When my daughter was young, we bought her an unassembled bike for Christmas. In an effort to quickly assemble the bike, I just started working through directions without gathering all the tools first. It took me hours to put together that bike because every few minutes I had to stop what I was doing, go find a wrench or some other tool, then try to find where I had left off. If I had gathered all of the things I would need to assemble the bike before I got started, I would have saved a lot of time, energy and frustration.

Writing a document is similar to putting together a bike. Failing to gather information in advance will cost you time because you will have to constantly stop writing to go gather information you need, and time in the business world is money. Additionally, not gathering information in advance could mean that you forget to include an important piece of information or that your information is incorrect.

Once you've gathered all of the information you need to create your document, it's time to establish your outcome. The outcome is the impact you want your document to have on the user. The outcome establishes your purpose for writing the document. When establishing your outcome, consider completing this blank: If a person reads this document and follows the instructions, he or she should be able to _____. What you fill in at the end of the sentence is your outcome. Let's look at some examples.

If you are writing a document for a software company and you want to let the company know about a new computer program, then after reading your document, the reader should be able to effectively use your computer program. Determining your outcome will help you decide how to present your information. Since you want the reader to be able to use your computer program, instead of just know about your program, you will need to create clear instructions and steps for how to use it, which is a very different document than just providing an explanation of what the program is and why you developed it. Establishing your outcome before you begin writing will give you a clear vision about what type of document you need to develop.

Next, it's important to determine who your audience will be. The audience is the group of people you intend to read or use the document. Determining your target audience will allow you to create a document that is user-friendly. When thinking about who will be your target audience, ask yourself these questions:

  • What do I need to tell the audience?
  • What information should I keep from my audience to prevent confusion?
  • What is my audience's current level of understanding about my subject?
  • How long does my audience have to read and use the information I will provide?

Answering these questions about your intended audience will help you develop a document that uses the appropriate word choice, depth and length for your document.

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