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Ever read a good instructional manual? [Feb. 21st, 2013|04:32 pm]
Have you ever read a book to learn about something complicated?

Did it help?

If so, mentally thank the author again, if you would, please. I'm learning just how hard that is.

I was laid off a few weeks back, and that's got me trying to blog about SQL Server. I would have sworn that explaining how database engines use transaction log files, and how that ties in to backup and restore and recovery models would be an afternoon's work. It's been two weeks and counting!
(updated: and about 6200 words - to be honest, that's *not* bad output. I feel a bit better now.)

I'm also working in a way that seems to work for me... but it's not what I expected.

Here's what I hoped I would do:

1) think about the topic I need to write about.
2) make a *very* rough outline. Something like this:

Simple - no tlog, full diff only
Full - tlog, lots of goodies, tail of the log
Bulk-Logged - tlog, "full, BUT!!!!"

And then, I figured, I'd fill in the outline. I thought of this as kind of like "engineering" the writing... putting up a rough structure, then doing the rest of the "building".

And so far, I haven't done that. Ever. I've been doing what I think of as "beginners writing" - sitting down, starting to write on a topic, and then finishing. And then maybe deciding I have to split it in two, and doing that, and so forth.

I'm curious: do any of my friends out there write the first way (putting together a kind of outline, and then filling it in - even if the outline is purely in your head)?

Did you do that from the beginning? Or did you kind of need to learn how you wrote first, so you started to realize what kind of outline you'd follow?

Or do you do like I do (or "know some fine writers who...") and just get an idea, and start writing, figuring you can re-do later?

[User Picture]From: susandennis
2013-02-22 01:22 am (UTC)
When I wrote for a living, I always made a list or outline of how I wanted it to go.

For speeches, I had a list of points that needed to be made - in a particular order.

For narrative articles, I'd have a short outline of stuff I didn't want to forget.

For technical papers, I had a much more involved outline. So involved that the actual writing was mainly just smoothing out the outline.

I learned this after I wrote for a newspaper and then switched to business communications and discovered - ooops! - my stuff was missing some important info.
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[User Picture]From: virtualvirtue
2013-02-22 02:43 am (UTC)
I write training material and procedures for a living.

Most of the time, I write a rough "outline" that shows the steps for a procedure and maybe a little intro. Then, I go back and write things in from my notes (warnings, notes, flags). Then, I test the procedure to see if what I wrote works. Maybe once to gather my screenshots and another time to make sure it works. Either I do the task or have someone raw do it (more familiar I am, the more likely I hand it to someone else for the sanity check).

That's my process...but, as they say...there's no one "right" way.
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From: kightp
2013-02-24 01:14 am (UTC)
For most of what I write these days, I don't bother with planning; I've been writing short news/features for so long I know how to get from lead to middle to end pretty quickly, circling back occasionally as I go to make revisions, eliminate redundancies, etc. Then I double-check any factual stuff I'm not sure I've got right, and I'm done. This process rarely takes more than an hour for an article of, say, 500-2000 words.

On the rare occasions when I'm writing about subjects I'm less familiar with, I usually work from some combination of interview notes and primary source documents (ie, scientific journal articles). In that case, my process is more defined:
* Go through notes/source docs and highlight the points that need to be made.
* Note where questions remain, more information is needed or I don't understand something(often with small PostIts.
* Write a draft, check to see that it hits the points and answers the questions.
* Run it past subject-matter experts (including the source) to make sure it's accurate and makes sense.
* Revise & publish.

Obviously, the second sort of process takes longer and is more painstaking than the first.

(I do write occasional "how-to" documents, usually as instruction for others - how to set up & post to a WordPress blog, for instance, how to crop and resize images for Web use, how to do some specific task in Drupal). These tend to be written in my spare time, in a first-do-this-then-do-that format, and I usually go back over them three or four times to simplify the steps and language as much as I can before delivering them to the users.)
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