If I get a weird assignment–scratch that, when I get a weird assignment, it usually means I’m being asked to write something with no exact parameters. How long is it? What is the content? Where do I get the information? When’s it due? It’s often a little vague, coupled with the added fun of being about material that people frequently go to school for multiple years to understand…oh, and can you get us a draft tomorrow?
But before I start freaking out about the astrophysics or aerospace engineering, I have learned to ask two very important questions:
- Who is my audience?
- What do I want them to do with the information?
After that, the rest of the content generally falls into place. If you know the who, you have a general idea of how long the document will need to be, what their preferred format is, and when they will want it. Question #2, intent, helps you select which facts to include, at what level, and what tone you use. And yes, you’ll still have to go after the actual meat of the subject, but knowing your document’s audience and intent focuses your writing so that you know where your mystery project has to go.