Organizing Your Data to Write Better Copy

by : Neroli Lacey

Last quarter I talked about interviewing / gathering data. So now you’ve got several thousand words of notes, hopefully digitally recorded. What comes next?


I suggested organizing your interview questions into 4 groups. I’m going to label them for you A, B, C, D.

?what is the business problem? = A

?what is the high level solution? = B

?can you tell me more about the solution? = C

?why should I trust you (as my vendor?) = D

Any decent piece of writing has a beginning, a middle and an end. So before you start editing / writing you want a map, to show you where you are going. Take a blank sheet of paper, write four major headings and label them A, B, C, D, as above.

Now read your notes. When you find data relevant to “A" (the business problem), underline that copy and mark a big “A" in the margin (in red?) . Keep working through until you have marked up relevant copy for all four sections of your piece.

You will be leaving out anything that does not seem suitable as you go.


Next comes a cut and paste job. Group together all the “A"s, then the “B"s, “C"s and “D"s.

Next, take a look at all the ideas you have in the A group. It helps if you take a new sheet of paper and write a list of the ideas or facts in the A group. Now prioritize. Be ruthless. And trust your first instinct. If an idea seems to leap out and have life, put it first. The less important ones come later. Weed out any repetition or weak data. Now you work on flow. Do you have a logical flow of ideas that your reader can follow? Are you telling him/ her a story that you yourself could believe in?

You will go through the same exercise with the remaining blocks of notes, ie “B",“C" and “D".


Editing is prioritizing. Often you will want to limit a list of ideas to 3. Three has a flow to it. And is about as much as any reader or listener can grasp at one sitting.

Finally you polish. Now you are reading for flow or musicality.You are cutting out superfluous ideas and words.

This is the long way to write.


The short way is to sift and prioritize all your notes in your mind ie you turn on your thinking tool. The key idea will pop into view, and hey presto, you begin writing about that one. You have a feeling for what comes next and what after that. You understand how to prioritize your ideas. Soon with a bit of jiggling ideas around the page, your story has a beginning, a middle and an end.

You can teach yourself the short way by writing the long way, again and again. Or by turning copy round in the middle of the night for an 07.00am deadline as I often had to do as a newspaper feature writer.

“When we encounter a natural style, we are astonished and delighted: for we expected to see an author, and we find a man." Blaise Pascal. Quoted with thanks to John R. Trimble, Writing with Style published by Prentice Hall.

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