You must answer these questions *before* you start writing.

Nonfiction writers’ dilemmas

Do you find your writing seems to lack purpose?
Does it really achieve what you set out to do?
Do you feel you have rambled on a bit?

If you answered yes, here’s another question.

Did you know that there are three important questions you need to answer
before you begin writing?

I remember them as PAM – purpose, audience, message.
They will help you focus on your readers and how you can make this a pleasant experience for them.

1. What is the purpose of this document?

Why are you writing this document? To explain, report, recommend, persuade, fulfil academic requirements, motivate, request, report findings …

Generally, you will have more than one purpose, but you should find that there is one purpose that is the most important.
That is the one that will determine the choices you will make about the type, structure, format of the document, and the language style.

  •  How might your purpose influence the type of document you will use?
    Will a letter, report or brochure be the best choice?
  •  How might the structure / format be determined by your purpose?
    Will the inclusion of tables or graphics be useful, or is all text more appropriate?
  •  How might your purpose influence the language style?
    How formal or informal does your language need to be?
    How much terminology can you use, or will you need to explain special terms?

2. Who is your audience?

  • Who will read this document?
    Primary readers (the specific person you think about when you write)
    Secondary readers (others who will read this, perhaps the financial manager or your primary reader’s supervisor)
  • How will they read this document?
    Will they scan it?              Will they read it all in detail?
    Will they read only the parts that interest them?
    Will they need a table of contents, index or glossary?
  • How will it be used?
    Will it be read frequently (a manual)?
    Will it be used to make a decision?
  • If you were the primary reader, what would you expect to see in the document?
  • If you were the secondary reader, what would you expect to see?

Always look at your document from your readers’ point of view.

3. What is your message?

  • What exactly do you want your readers to know, understand or do?
  • What is your core message?                   What is your call to action?

Your answer will help you give your readers a context for your document
and a structure to guide them to the conclusion you want them to reach.

Readers read your words, not your mind.
        If it’s not written, how can you be sure they will know what you mean?

Your answers to these three questions help you make decisions about:

  • how to present your document
  • how to use specialised terms, abbreviations and their explanations
  • how much detail to give
  • whether to use tables, illustrations or graphics.

Remember to answer these three questions before you start writing.

Expect to see an improvement in the standard of your document, and your readers’ perception of your professionalism.

What techniques have you used to help you focus on your readers?



Perfect Pages sharpening your writing
Perfect Pages
sharpening your writing

10 thoughts on “You must answer these questions *before* you start writing.

  1. What great advice. Having started my own blog two months ago, I’m still questioning who my audience is. I’m not giving advice or helping people sell things after all, but I’m enjoying it and maybe that’s enough at this stage. However I’ll ask your three questions right now.

    1. Thanks for dropping by.

      I think answering those questions will help you focus your writing and take your enjoyment to a new level – particularly when readers start interacting with you.

      It’s particularly exciting when you know you’ve helped your readers come to an ‘Aha!’ moment.

      Let me know how a more refined focus helps you.


  2. What a great article to come across as I settle to write this week’s blog post!
    Why am I writing this? For whom? What do I want my Audience to get out of it?
    Love Sally’s point – PAM it don’t SPAM it 🙂
    Now… more to the point, can I actually do it?!

    1. Hello Linda

      Getting that basic focus sorted first really helps to give direction to your writing.

      I love reading your Journey Jottings – and yes, you can actually do it!

    1. Hi Catherine
      Thanks for your comment.

      Clarity, conciseness and sharpness are so important for non-fiction writing in these days of busy-ness.
      The ‘rules’ for fiction are quite different, although ‘good’ non-fiction writing cam have a poetic feel.

      Guess the same applies to photography 🙂

  3. Hello Helen
    I think we’re all guilty of waffling at times 🙂

    As there always seems to be so much to read these days, we need to be disciplined about getting our message across in a way that will keep readers reading.

    I look forward to hearing how answering those questions helps you with your writing.

    1. Hey Sally
      That’s a great comment – thank you. I just might have to ‘borrow’ that sentence when I’m running writing strategy workshops.

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