Easily structure your writing with this 5-minute technique

a confusing mind map

So. You’ve got to write a long, detailed report, containing lots of complex ideas. Where do you start?

How do you know what’s most important? How do you know what to ditch and what to keep?

How do you even begin to structure it?

Here, I’m going to reveal a simple trick for cutting through the clutter and getting things straight in your head.

A client I’ve been coaching recently came to me with exactly this problem. He’d been tearing his hair out while planning a long, complex document. The furthest he’d got was creating a "mind map".

But it hadn’t worked. In fact, the mind map had just confused him even more.

And I’m not surprised. It filled a page of A4 and looked like a more acronym-heavy version of this:

I couldn’t for the life of me fathom what the main topic was, let alone what he wanted to say about it.

Some writers love mind maps. Frankly, I hate them.

I suppose they might be a good brainstorming tool. But my problem with mind maps is this: I have no idea how you turn that pile of mental vomit into something resembling the linear, logical structure that written work requires. And, clearly, neither did my client.

The simple, powerful alternative to a mind map

But with a little probing from me, my client went away with a skeleton structure for his piece. I’ve adapted the details slightly to respect confidentiality, but here’s how our conversation went:

Me: Let’s leave the pile of mental vomit aside for a moment. Tell me this: if you only had one tweet – 140 characters – to get your message across, what would you say?

Client: That I’m recommending our firm doesn't change its strategy.

Me: Great – that’s your first line. So why no change?

Client: Because it will have a negative impact on decisions people have already made. I’d probably also want to talk about the benefits of sticking with the strategy.

Me: So we’ve got our first section. Now. What if I gave you another 140 characters. What would you say?

Client: That we might want to consider some tweaks to the strategy as an alternative to overhauling it completely. I could then list and discuss those potential tweaks.

Me: Great. That’s your next section covered. And if I gave you another 140 characters?

Client: I’d probably want to highlight some of the risks of my suggested approach.

Me: Perfect. What next?

Client: Er, I think that’s all I need to say.

So in less than five minutes we went from a pile of mental vomit to this:

1. No need to change the strategy

Negative impact on decisions already made Benefits of sticking with the strategy

2. Possible tweaks?

List and discuss!

3. Risks of sticking with the strategy

List and discuss!

Which would you rather work from?

Try the three-tweet technique and let us know how you get on. Interested in business writing coaching? Contact me on 020 8127 1477.