The Secret Sauce For Developing Written Content

July 12, 2012
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Many people hate the thought of having to write a white paper or article. Most cringe even more at the thought of writing a book. The task seems so daunting and time consuming that many never get around to it. That’s a shame since I know a lot of people with good things to say and there’s so much worth sharing right now within our industry. This aversion to writing also puts analytical projects at risk. After all, one of the important steps in any research or analytics effort is to document and communicate the findings and implications.

Many people hate the thought of having to write a white paper or article. Most cringe even more at the thought of writing a book. The task seems so daunting and time consuming that many never get around to it. That’s a shame since I know a lot of people with good things to say and there’s so much worth sharing right now within our industry. This aversion to writing also puts analytical projects at risk. After all, one of the important steps in any research or analytics effort is to document and communicate the findings and implications. For large projects, this can necessitate quite a bit of writing and this important final step is often one that is dreaded by those involved. It doesn’t need to be that way.

One of the most common questions I have been asked since my book Taming The Big Data Tidal Wave was released in April is how long it took me to write it. In answering, I find myself explaining the secret sauce I learned that helped me accelerate the writing process by what I estimate to be 3x or 4x! I am going to share the secret here because I believe that it can provide immense benefits to anyone who needs to write a formal analytics document that is longer than a page or two.

My main problem when I write is that I can’t help but correct myself as I go. If I make a typo or don’t like the way I worded something, I can’t stop myself from correcting it right away (In fact, I just fixed a typo now!). This is a big distraction as it focuses me more on editing than on getting my ideas down in writing. It also means that it can take me quite a while to actually get a draft completed. Writing is a frustrating and time consuming process for me.

So what’s the secret sauce? It is something that I must credit to Bart Queen of Speak America. I was introduced to Bart a few years ago through a corporate partner. To make a long story short, he offered to help me tune a presentation I needed to create for a conference. His help on how to develop and organize PowerPoint presentations was invaluable, but that wasn’t what helped me the most.

After we discussed the talk, Bart asked me to record myself doing a dry run with my phone and then send it off to a transcription service (I used The Transcription Studio, but there are other similar services out there as well). I didn’t understand why he wanted me to do this and didn’t see the point. His response was that once we had the general flow down on paper, it would be easy to cut, paste, and rearrange the topics. He specifically said not to worry about getting the words exact, but rather just to make sure I hit all the key points.

The epiphany came when I got the transcript back. My 45 minute talk turned itself into 26 pages of single spaced type. That’s a lot of content! Further, it hit me that a white paper or book chapter was basically equivalent to 30 to 45 minutes of talking. Once I realized this, it finally got me to take the leap and commit to writing my book. I didn’t know how many pages I had in my head, but I knew I could talk about the ideas for hours.

The secret sauce, therefore, is that I didn’t technically write my book. I got all my thoughts organized for each chapter and then spoke my book. I was able to ignore grammar issues and edits when compiling my rough notes and outlines. And, once I started speaking I didn’t worry about such things either. I was finally able to focus on generating content without the distraction of editing as I did it.

The first draft that came back from the transcription service always needed a lot of editing. However, I found that it is much, much easier to edit the transcribed draft with all the issues it contains than it is to type the entire thing out from scratch. I believe that this process literally cut my writing time down by 65% – 75%!

I will never “write” anything longer than a blog entry again. I will always “speak” it and then edit it. The idea makes a lot of sense once you hear it. And, it works wonders once you try it. However, I must admit that I never had it cross my mind until Bart Queen introduced me to it.

I encourage you all to try the transcription method the next time you need to write something. My guess is that you will find it to be an immense productivity booster. It may even encourage you to develop more content than you already generate today. Good luck!

To see a video version of this blog, visit my YouTube channel.

Originally published by the International Institute for Analytics