Blog | Dec 14, 2010 | 4 Comments

[the long haul]

[writing long documents]

What’s the longest thing you’ve ever written? Despite the fact that attention spans are shorter than ever, there’s still a demand for white papers, research reports, and detailed PowerPoint presentations. I’ve been thinking lately about some of the skills and resources needed for these. Check out my list and feel free to add your own advice, too.

It takes serious staying power to write long documents.

I’ve had several very long projects in the last few years: a report on poverty for Step Up Silicon Valley, a curriculum for a program that helps at-risk youth at Catholic Charities, and a white paper for a software company. I also co-wrote a detailed research report about the health of residents of Santa Clara County. I’m getting ready to co-write another report on health for the County.

It’s really costly to go in the wrong direction on a large project.

Here are a few ideas about what writers need to be successful:

And whatever you do, don’t get paralyzed by the size of the task. Every piece of writing, no matter how long or complex, starts with a crappy first draft. For more about that, see my blog, [six rules of writing].

Photo credit: Photo by Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier on flickr. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
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Author: Claire Wagner

I'm a seasoned freelance writer/editor and an enthusiastic community manager. I'm passionate about developing and sharing good content.


I’d add to “first, cast your net wide”. When I was writing my masters thesis, I gathered facts/ideas/contacts, etc. from as wide an array of sources as possible: even things that were only marginally associated. Tried to keep it all semi-organized so I could find it. Then, when I actually sat down to write I had lots of data, and could whittle, whittle, whittle, and then go out hunting again to fill in places where holes emerged. Having that “extra” data there took me in some surprising directions – places I might not have gone had I passed it by in the initial data-gathering.

I do not know if the process would/should be different when doing a large research project for a client, but since my thesis was a business plan for an existing business, I was sort of working for a client and had to be cautious of using his time wisely. I would have LOVED having a writing partner on that project, by the way!


Claire Wagner Reply:

Lisa, that’s great advice, although I often have the opposite problem. Clients often dump stacks of information on us without really sifting through it first, and that does take extra time that usually isn’t really covered in the fee. And I still frequently have to “google” concepts that aren’t covered in enough depth. It’s a delicate balance between wanting to do the best job possible and trying to be efficient!


Lisa H.-S.


I’m a huge fan of the crappy first draft and would be helpless without it!! Every project begins with a deep breath and affirmation that I am indeed going to write a horribly crappy first draft, just so that it gets the thoughts out and starting to take shape on the page.

It takes an extraordinary amount of detail awareness and fortitude to write long missives, Claire!! Hat’s off to you for having it and using it!!


Claire Wagner Reply:

Good affirmation: go bravely forth and write!


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