Getting from idea to publication

Writing a useful publication is more than choosing words. Much of the work occurs before you begin writing and after you finish the first draft. Here are some tips for getting from idea to published piece, whether printed or online.

Writing a useful publication is more than choosing words. Much of the work occurs before you begin writing and after you finish the first draft. Here are some tips for getting from idea to published piece, whether printed or on-line. An EESC editor can advise you at any of these steps.

Step 1: Who is my audience and what do they need?

Knowing your audience and their needs is a vital first step. Organize your thoughts around:

  • Who is my audience? Be specific about details.
  • What do they need? List commonly asked questions.
  • What/who has triggered the need for the publication?
  • What will the publication teach?
  • Where will readers find/use the publication?
  • When do they need it? Short-term, seasonal, longer term?
  • Why do they need it?
  • How will readers benefit?

Step 2: How will my publication be used?

This clarifies your publication's function and generates clues for how to design and write it.

  • Is the publication's function clear?
  • Is it meant to inform, motivate, serve as a tool, or entertain?
  • If it will inform and/or motivate, is the conventional form of problem/topic, details, discussion, conclusions/recommendations most appropriate?
  • If it will serve as a tool, should it include checklists, graphics, flow charts, self-tests, and/or step-by-step instructions?
  • Can the use be extend by including contact information, supplemental resources, appendix materials, and/or sidebars?

Step 3: How do I get the word out?

Marketing and distribution should influence how you design and write your publication.

  • How will I market/distribute the publication?
  • How does marketing/distribution influence its design, writing, title, appearance, and price?
  • What are possible outlets (newsletters, other organizations, World Wide Web, workshops, colleagues)?

Step 4: What's the point?

You must be crystal clear on what points your publication will make to ensure what it conveys is appropriate.

  • What does the audience already know?
  • What doesn't the audience need to know?
  • What are the publication's points? (List or outline them.)
  • Have I expanded each point appropriately?
  • Have I omitted something vital?
  • Have I written only to the publication's purpose?
  • Will appendixes clarify areas of uncertainty?
  • What graphics are necessary/desirable?

Step 5: How should I say it?

Start with an “idea dump,” then organize your thoughts. Next, produce a draft. Don't let stress about grammar, spelling, and punctuation stifle your creativity--fix these problems later.

  • Are my thoughts organized? (Use a topic list or outline.)
  • Is all discussion of a topic in one place?
  • Is prerequisite knowledge introduced before beginning a topic?
  • Have I used the:
    • Words most appropriate for the audience?
    • Minimum number of words?
    • Active voice?

Step 6: What do others think?

Don't work in a vacuum. Truly useful publications reflect input from colleagues and target users. Appropriate review often is two-phased--at the intermediate draft stage and again at the polished draft stage.

  • Will the review(s) be formal, informal, or both?
  • Why am I getting the review(s)?
  • Are the types and levels of review(s) compatible with the publication's content, intended use, target audience, and outlet?
  • Who should do the review(s)?
  • When should I get the review(s)?
  • Am I prepared to consider all of the review comments?
  • Have I avoided the common mistakes caused by pushing too hard to finish the publication:
    • Delaying/skipping the review(s)
    • Using only “best buds” as reviewers
    • No target users as reviewers

Step 7: Did I do a good job?

Evaluation assesses how well your publication met the audience's needs. Some kinds of evaluation are done while writing the publication and others after it's been out awhile. Consider including your e-mail address or a postcard in hard copy publications and direct e-mail links in on-line publications. Telephone and e-mail surveys also are easy for respondents. Remember that evaluation and impact analysis are different.

  • What do I want from the evaluation?
  • Will the evaluation be formal, informal, or both?
  • Is the type and level of evaluation compatible with the publication content, intended use, target audience, and outlet?
  • Has my evaluation posed appropriate questions?
  • Am I doing evaluation or impact analysis?
  • If I choose to skip the evaluation, am I doing so for legitimate reasons or am I merely trying to avoid the hassle?

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