Write in blocks

Learn to visualize your writing in blocks.

The mind cannot hold and work with a large number of ideas all at one time. Readers like to access information in easily digestible chunks rather than one large chunk. That's why books are divided into chapters and chapters into paragraphs.

To help readers understand and remember your points, you should present the points in clearly defined blocks. That will also help you write more quickly and easily. You will find it easier to write one block at a time rather than try to conceptualize the entire report and put it into the report as one large whole.

Why make the blocks so clear?

Blocks in your report are like cells in a spreadsheet. You want to have accurate numbers in every cell of a spreadsheet so you end up with accurate totals.

Labor $43,798.00
Maintenance $  3,425.00
Utilities $12,241.00
Insurance $  3,403.00
TOTAL $62,867.00

Similarly, if you don't have accurate communication at every block in the writing, you won't have an accurate total in the reader's mind when he or she finishes reading your report.

 

Have a name for each block in mind. Use the key words for the block.

When you wrote your notes, you used a word or few words for each central idea and for each sub-idea. Those words are key words. You will use them in the headings, opening statements describing what is in a section, and explanations. Those key words are like titles for the block. This is the "meeting agenda block." Within the "meeting agenda block," I have three sub-ideas that form three blocks: the "business report" block, the "old business" block, and the "new business" block.

Using the titles for blocks will help you keep them organized and focused. It will also help you keep the key words in mind so you use them consistently as you write.

The largest block is the entire report.

A report about a focus group follows. The intended audience is a vice president who wants only the results, so the report is very short. It has only the conclusions:

This is the resulting report body:

Results of the December 2018 focus group discussion at Marketing Research Services in Gainesville, Florida.

  1. Readership. Respondents read and prefer Collin Industrial News over its competitors because of its informative content and easy-to-read style.

  2. Reactions to content. Focus group members suggested very few changes to Collin Industrial News because they value Collin Industrial News in its current form. The two changes they mentioned were to add a technical tips section and increase the coverage of government requirements for the tool and die industry.

  3. Interest in additional wall charts. Additional wall charts would be useful if they contained information relating to specialized tool and die products.

The report has four blocks: the title, the first area explored, the second area explored, and the third area explored. They are separated by white space. Each body block begins with a number and a bolded heading indicating the topic of the block.

More blocks add detail.

Now imagine this report is about the same focus group meeting, but it is for the division head. He won't be involved in making decisions about the magazine, but he does want to stay on top of what is going on with it. As a result, he wants more detail, resulting in more blocks. However, he doesn't want all the details.

This is the resulting report body:

Summary of Collin Industrial News Focus Group Conclusions

In December 2018, Collin Industrial News conducted a focus group discussion at Marketing Research Services in Gainesville, Florida. This report summarizes the results of the focus group discussion.

Tool and die trade publication readership.

  1. Members of the group either did not read Tool and Die Technology Magazine or spent five or ten minutes with the magazine, while all stated that they read Collin Industrial News and averaged one-half hour with it as soon as it comes in the mail.

  2. They spent the extra time with Collin Industrial News because of its editorial style and content.

  3. Collin Industrial News is perceived to be written by people in the industry and the articles convey important information quickly and efficiently.

Specific issues regarding magazine content.

  1. They were not interested in and generally did not read the profiles in Tool and Die Technology Magazine.

  2. Reactions to an Annual Buyer's Guide were mixed because respondents have much of this information already and questioned whether an annual update would keep the Guide current. They were happy with the current information they received from sales representatives.

  3. The focus group members liked all of the content of Collin Industrial News.

  4. They did suggest that Collin Industrial News add a technical tips section and increase the coverage of government requirements for the tool and die industry.

Reactions to having more wall charts.

  1. Wall charts would have to provide critical information to justify taking up space at eye level.

  2. Suppliers are currently filling many reference needs by providing charts with tool and die specifications.

  3. One area that is not being addressed is information relating to specialized tool and die products.

The report has four main blocks: the introduction and three body blocks: focus area one, focus area two, and focus area three. The body blocks are separated by bolded headings and white space. Each of the focus areas is broken into blocks that are numbered and separated by white space. Those blocks are the specific findings of the focus group.

When more detail is needed,
the number of blocks increases.

Now imagine this report is about the same focus group meeting, but it is for the marketing administrator in the company. Since she needs to make decisions, she'll need all the detail, resulting in more blocks.

This is the resulting report body:

Collin Industrial News
Focus Group Report

In December 2018, Collin Industrial News conducted a focus group discussion with ten tool and die workers who met at Marketing Research Services in Gainesville, Florida. The research had three goals:

  1. Evaluate tool and die trade publication readership.

  2. Examine specific issues regarding magazine content.

  3. Gauge respondent reaction to having more wall charts.

This report explains the results of the focus group discussion.

Goal 1: Evaluate tool and die trade publication readership.

The first goal was to evaluate tool and die trade publication readership by asking participants what tool and die magazines they most often read.

  1. The focus group discussions revealed that there was a significant difference between the amount of time spent with Collin Industrial News and Tool and Die Technology Magazine. Two members did not read Tool and Die Technology Magazine. Seven of the remaining eight spent five or ten minutes with the magazine and one spent up to 20 minutes reading it. In sharp contrast, all stated that they read Collin Industrial News immediately upon receiving it or within a day. Four stated that they spend as much as 45 minutes reading the magazine. Two spend as much as a half hour. The remaining four stated that they spend around 15 minutes reading the magazine.

  2. In the discussions, three stated that they spend the extra time with Collin Industrial News because of its editorial style and content and the others immediately agreed. None stated that they had any reservations about the content of Collin Industrial News.

  3. When asked why they preferred to read Collin Industrial News, one group member stated, "It seems to be written by people who work in tool and die, not professional writers who just write about anything." The others agreed. When one member stated that the articles convey important information quickly and "It doesn't waste my time," the others agreed.

Goal 2: Examine specific issues regarding magazine content.

The second goal was to examine specific issues regarding magazine content by asking focus group members what they most enjoyed reading and how much time they spent with sections of the magazines.

  1. One member volunteered that he did especially did not like the profiles in Tool and Die Magazine. The others agreed. One stated that they were not interesting.

  2. They were asked about their reactions to the Tool and Die Technology Magazine Annual Buyer's Guide. Four said they found it informative. The remaining six felt it was not useful because they receive much of the information from service representatives before the guide comes out. When one said the Guide wasn't really the most current information, especially when it was six months old, the rest all agreed.

  3. They all agreed that they were happy with the current information they received from sales representatives.

  4. The focus group members liked all of the content of Collin Industrial News. They specifically mentioning the "Tools of the Trade" and "Industry Contacts" sections. Two suggested that Collin Industrial News add a technical tips section similar to that in Industrial Age.

  5. Another group member suggested that Collin Industrial News increase the coverage of government requirements for the tool and die industry. All of the members of the focus group agreed with those suggestions.

Goal 3: Gauge the focus group's reaction to having more wall charts.

The final goal of the focus group was to gauge the members' reactions to having more wall charts.

  1. The tool and die workers represented in the focus group described wall charts as "useful." When the topic of wall charts was brought up, the workers immediately said that wall space in the shop is at a premium. They use the space to hold information they need while doing their work. The wall charts they have are necessary to the efficient functioning of the tool and die works.

  2. One stated that if someone were to suggest putting up a wall chart, it would have to provide critical information to justify taking up space at eye level. All agreed.

  3. The members of the focus group agreed that suppliers are currently filling many reference needs by providing charts with tool and die specifications.

  4. One area that is not being addressed is information relating to specialized tool and die products. They were especially interested in having a wall chart for the new computer-aided technologies being introduced in their plants.

Conclusion

Respondents read Collin Industrial News and prefer it over the competitors because of its informative content and easy-to-read style. Focus group members suggested very few changes to Collin Industrial News because they value Collin Industrial News in its current form. The two changes they mentioned were to add a technical tips section and increase the coverage of government requirements for the tool and die industry. Additional wall charts would be useful if they contained information relating to specialized tool and die products.

The report now has five main blocks: the introduction, three body blocks, and a conclusion. Those blocks are broken up into paragraphs, which are also blocks. Each paragraph presents a focused explanation. In all, the report now contains nineteen body blocks, including heading blocks. All of these blocks help readers follow the explanation.

How to write in blocks

When you envision your writing in blocks, you can create a framework by typing in the main ideas first and adding details later. You may dread writing a report because you are trying to put your arms around the entire report in your mind before writing it. That's too big a steamer trunk to get your arms around.

Instead, think of the main ideas or blocks of information that you want to express. Then type the main ideas to use as a framework. Typing just the main ideas organizes the report, allowing you to provide complete information for the reader and delete any superfluous information as you fill in the blocks with details. Use mind mapping to help you record the ideas before you begin to write.

In the example reports about the focus group, the first blocks are the three areas. The writer would type those in immediately, knowing they are the main sections of the report.

Then the writer would think, "For the vice president, all I need is the primary conclusion for each of the three areas. Then I'm done."

But then he would be faced with the report for the division administrator. That person needs more detail. He would start with the three body sections, add the primary conclusions for each, and stop. That's all this reader needs. He would add the introduction and send it off.

Finally, for the administrator who must make decisions, the writer needs to include all of the detail, divided into the same three areas. He would put in every detail that would be relevant to understanding the conclusions for the area. Any extra detail would be left out. After he put in the necessary detail, the writer would add the introduction and conclusion.

In that way, the writer used the same basic framework to create three different reports and satisfy the needs of three readers. The main blocks were nearly identical, but the writer added more blocks for additional detail and set them off more emphatically with headings so the larger blocks stood out clearly.

If you can envision your writing in blocks, you will find you write more easily and quickly, and you will break your writing into manageable chunks the reader can consume and digest easily.

Avoid dividing your writing into
blocks that are too small.

Dividing your writing into blocks helps readers follow your explanations, but dividing it into too many small blocks actually makes the writing less clear. Blocks hold concepts together. If you separate the explanations of concepts into too many blocks, the reader will have difficulty putting the pieces together. Your writing will also appear choppy.

This example is broken into blocks that are too small. Each contains an idea, but these ideas should be in a block that is the single central concept they all contribute to explaining.

Qualifications for Direct Market Coordinator

A bachelor's degree in business, marketing, or communications is required for this position.

A minimum of one year's experience in direct marketing, including database management and lead-generation methods is also required.

The ideal candidate will be detail oriented, have exceptional verbal and written communication skills, and be self-directed.

The writer should have put them into one block, a "qualifications" block. This is the rewritten block:

Qualifications for Direct Market Coordinator

The direct market coordinator must have a bachelor's degree in business, marketing, or communications and a minimum of one year's experience in direct marketing, including database management and lead-generation methods. This person must also be detail oriented, have exceptional verbal and written communication skills, and be self-directed.

The qualifications fit into one paragraph block. That shows the reader they are all part of the same central idea, "qualifications," and eliminates the choppy feeling.

The block would be better if the list parts were broken out, of course:

Qualifications for Direct Market Coordinator

The direct market coordinator must have the following:

  1. A bachelor's degree in business, marketing, or communications
  2. A minimum of one year's experience in direct marketing, including database management and lead-generation methods
  3. Detail orientation
  4. Exceptional verbal and written communication skills
  5. Self-direction

The examples in this explanation pertain to report writing. Click on the link to see an example of blocks that might appear in an e-mail, memo, or letter:

E‑mail, memo, or letter blocks

 

Example

To see an example of an e‑mail that is not divided into blocks for clarity and a revision that improves it, click on the "Example" button below. The information will appear in a new window. Close the new window when you're finished looking at the examples.

Example

 

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