How can I strengthen my writing abilities?

I’m striving to write better, as the title indicates. I frequently have to write PRDs, guidelines, 1-pagers, roadmaps, etc. in my role as a product manager. I’ve found that I’m pretty excellent at coming up with ideas, explaining to engineers and stakeholders what it is we need to develop, and even though I know it’s not our job, I would consider myself a decent project manager. Having stated that, I find it difficult to express my ideas in writing in PRDs and other documents. I find it dull in part, but I also don’t know where to begin. My coworkers write these incredibly extensive documents, but to me, it’s just filler. Additionally, I’ve been working to organize the process, and Lenny’s Newsletter has some useful templates. Even though I’m doing this, I still feel that a lot of it isn’t as beneficial as having a call where I can clarify my points and respond to inquiries. In any case, I’d appreciate advice or even some suggestions to help me rethink my perspective and become a better writer of PRDs, roadmaps, and other documents because I know that’s what we need to accomplish our jobs. I’d be keen to hear any suggestions, if anyone has any.

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I spent a lot of time teaching college-level writing. Writing effectively is very difficult, and many people struggle with it. Although practice will assist, I’m pleased to share some tips that I’ve learned along the way.

Before writing, first create a mental outline. When it comes to actually put pen to paper, I usually draft a basic outline of what I want to say and in what sequence.

Second, consider the many levels of organization in your writing. A written item is made up of paragraphs, which contain phrases, which contain words. Assessing at each of these three “levels” is necessary for good writing. Take into account how the sentences you use to construct paragraphs of thought-out sentences. Consider how each paragraph relates to the others. Think about the finest word combinations to convey your concept.

Edit your work, third. Always consider whether you might get your point through in fewer words. Read what you have written aloud. While reading aloud, are there any sentences or paragraphs that tangle your tongue? Focus on those passages and make any necessary clarifications.

It’s a great objective to improve your writing! These pointers should be helpful, I hope.

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I’m the same as the OP. I’ve tried this idea previously, and while it’s excellent and beneficial, I still got stuck. :smile: I was unable to turn those into sentences.

In the end, I basically changed it to suit my needs after searching for other ideas online :frowning:

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I like the idea of outlining thoughts first. Physical whiteboards work the best for me for some reason.

This is the boring but effective advice that I always start with. Especially the first point about outlining.

This was hammered into us in both high school (we were even graded on the outlines) and college. I’m surprised by the number of people who not only don’t do it but were never taught to.

If anyone wants a book, I recommend On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser.

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Write more: In other words, practice makes perfect.

Write less, as well. As in: it’s really, incredibly challenging to convey your idea with the least amount of information possible. But that is what distinguishes good writing.

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I am trying to. I guess I’m just having a hard time seeing the value. I’m tempted to hire a stenographer haha

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:slight_smile: It’s not about “writing fast”. It’s about “writing less” i.e. effective synthesis.

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This is great. How do I do this? Any good references or information that you can provide? Maybe some real-world examples.

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Yes. I would read and thoroughly digest this new book: Smart Brevity: the power of saying more with less

Instead of focusing on the end product, you should reconsider and learn good synthesis in general.

Return to writing “product” after that. Effective “product” writing structures (problem vs. solution space, who/what/why/how, X needs Y so that Z, etc.) are applied to effective synthesis.

I’m still travelling…

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Awesome! This is what I was looking for. I really appreciate your insight

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Oh my God. I frequently overextend myself or fail to be as exact as I should be. Honestly, I’m learning how to communicate efficiently with less words. My boss specializes in this area. Both as a PM and a communicator, he excels. His writing is always very exact, which constantly surprises me.

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A) A few concepts on the importance of written documents:

  1. People process information differently; some prefer textual communication while others prefer verbal communication (you seem to be one). Hence, you are here serving various customer segments.

  2. Written papers, in addition to spoken communication, lessen the possibility of misunderstandings. Additionally, they generate alignment and transparency among stakeholders in ways that (bilateral) communication does not (record function).

  3. Written materials may be used as a guide for post-launch examination (i.e. you mapped your assumptions on how to create value before launch, then refer back to whether these assumptions were validated or not).

B) With regard to practicing:

You can seek stakeholders for comments on your documentation in addition to building a clear picture of what great looks like (via online research, etc.) and iterating from there (view your docs as a “product” itself).

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The most obvious thing is to write. A lot. Since becoming a PM was never my ideal job, I write as a side business because I enjoy it.

This advice is common in writing circles, but the first draft is all about getting words on the page, not about getting them to be of high quality. Just write, without worrying too much about organization or structure (you still want to try to write well, but your goal should be words on the page as opposed to perfect structure.)

Ask yourself questions such, “I know my CEO is extremely busy and only has time for sound bytes.” What is very necessary for them to know before I walk away if I only have their attention for thirty seconds? Make sure you lead with it after that.

I offer the following general guidance to people who ask me how to improve their business writing:

  • Use the "explain them what you are going to tell them, tell them the thing, then tell them what you told them "framework while writing. Memory is aided by repetition.

  • Never bury the lead; this rule is particularly crucial when writing emails. If you need someone to see someone or do something, start your email with that. With product documentation, you have a limited window of attention, so always start with the most crucial information.

  • Write in a journalistic style. It is organized, informative, and to the point—all qualities your product paper should possess.

  • To make your writing easier, use programs like the Hemingway app. I had a reputation for creating phrases that were difficult to understand yet were nevertheless technically correct. The Hemingway app offers suggestions for simplification, flags adverbs to eliminate, and offers other helpful general guidance.

  • Avoid using the passive voice in business settings; it nearly never makes sense, frequently evades responsibility, and is difficult to read. Don’t use the phrase “It was decided.” “The PM team decided,” you say. Resist the impulse to use the formal-sounding passive voice since PMs love it.

I can only think of these at the moment.

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Two tips…

1 - Buy this book (The Elements of Style) and reference it regularly. This is the Bible of writing, not an exaggeration. My fav rule is “omit needless words”.

2 - Write things as they flow naturally first. Afterwards go back and find ways to simplify. As mentioned above, you should “omit needless words” until what’s left is only the bare essentials.

Example: “Like the title states, I’m trying to get better at writing. As a product manager I find myself needing to write PRDs, guides, 1-pagers, roadmaps, etc.” —> “I’d like to improve my writing ability because my role requires writing many documents.”

Ask yourself: “how might we communicate concisely so others easily understand?”

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There are many amazing writing resources available online. Don’t restrict your writing advice to tech or product-related topics; effective writing applies to all industries. But I’ve also discovered that my teams favor concise, to the point docs over lengthy ones. The longer, “fluffier” PRDs and similar documents often make me cringe and come across as pretentious thought leaders. But if that’s the workplace culture, I’d also seek feedback and advice from your coworkers.

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What are you writing? Although I’m not a great writer, I excel at communicating in writing. In most circumstances, I’ve discovered that bullet points and less material work for me. Because of how my brain functions, I also rely heavily on systems diagrams, mocks, and other visualizations. Last but not least, I agree with the other remark about beginning with an overview and expanding from there. Usually, less is more. Like you, most people are aware of junk when they see it and don’t want to consume it.

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User stories need to be really specific at my company. Despite not being best practice, some developers demand that every detail be shared. Then, before any work starts, we have a procedure for bigger user stories that entails having the developer and QA examine each narrative word for word. When necessary, we add explanation and fill in any gaps. This procedure, in my opinion, teaches me where I need to make writing improvements.