Do you define your composing process?

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One of the most memorable classes I ever took in college was called The Composing Process which delved into the process behind technical and creative writing. You may have a composing process and not even really know it. Maximizing your composing process is another way to kick your productivity up to another level.

Even if you are dragged kicking and screaming into a writing project as part of your job and it just isn’t your thing then mapping out your composing process can help you put in tools to help yourself to accomplish tedious writing tasks.

Here’s an overview of the usual composing process for writing articles:

1. Create and track ideas

Whether I am considering a new article or blog post for publication or preparing to write a document for a client, I’m very dutiful at creating and tracking my ideas up until such time I make a go/no go decision to move forward with them. While the tools I use at this stage of the process change, here are some of my favorites:

My ideas come from reading tech news, discussions with friends and colleagues in the industry, and things I experience during the workday.

2. Research ideas

My research phase often runs in tandem with my idea generation and tracking. For my technical writing projects, this phase of my composing process may include:

  • Get access to the application I am due to write about
  • Check out the application for myself
  • Perform a competitive analysis
  • Interview subject matter experts (SMEs) if necessary

Besides my web browser, my favorite tool for this phase is Evernote where I use the web clipper (available for Firefox and Google Chrome) to capture any online research for later reference.

3. Write and edit drafts

The writing phase of my composing process may start while I am still in research mode. In fact, researching and idea generation & tracking are just about daily tasks for me regardless of whether I have an active writing project or not.

My writing tools include Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or Ulysses depending on customer/publication requirements.

As a contract technical writer, I’ve always been flexible to a client’s tool requirements and always advise others to do the same.

4. Revise draft based on client/SME feedback

I try to revise, revise, revise as much as scheduling and client expectations allow. Revision is also the stage of the process where my work goes to client review.

5. Finalize Document

Based on the revising phase, I finalize the document or article based on comments and feedback.
While I am a writer, a lot of the process I outline in this post transcends mediums and putting in the right checkpoints and mix of tools can be a boon to your productivity like it has been to mine.
What’s your composing process?

Will Kelly is a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. He has worked with commercial, federal, higher education, and publishing clients to develop technical and thought leadership content. His technology articles have been published by CNET TechRepublic, Government Computer News, Federal Computer Week,, and others. Follow Will on Twitter:@willkelly.

An earlier version of this post was published at on August 5, 2010.

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