A New Year and a Unique Process for Defining a Content Strategy

Ah, the start of a new year. It brings so many possibilities because it is the best time for a fresh start. With a fresh start you want to have a different perspective and a  different set of goals for the year. I am someone who likes to make lists and live by the list. I am a planner. Planning gives me a clear sense of where I am going and allows me to break my supporting activities into smaller reachable goals.

For this blog post, I want to discuss planning for content. Content could mean a marketing plan, a twitter campaign, documentation for a product release, or in my case, planning effective content for the readership of this blog. I will define the process in a manner that it could be applied to any campaign you may be working on related to communication or technical writing.

While researching the components of a successful content campaign, I found a link to a list of 2018-2019 monthly messaging themes for the University of Washington Marketing and Communications department. These themes are defined at the university level and are used by all marketing and communications at the university.

“As part of our efforts to maximize the effectiveness of our marketing and communications projects across the University of Washington, we will be utilizing monthly message themes again during the 2018-19 academic year.”

The page contains a grid of month, theme, and strategic communications. Each month, July through June is a row in the grid. Each month a different them is selected. The theme is accompanied with an accompanying hashtag for use on social media channels.

The lesson I learned from this link is that when designing a campaign, be sure to determine whether your business or organization has a defined strategy. If there is a strategy, following it for your campaign will ensure you are in line with organization goals and will save you the time of defining the whole plan yourself. You will only have to alight your specific campaign plan to the organization plan.

I cannot find a predefined messaging theme for Chatham University. At publication, I am waiting for a response from the Office of University Communications. Below is the grid I started for this blog. I have only added the months for this spring semester.

Month Theme
January Unique and Wonderful
February Think Innovation
March Keep Reaching
April Looking to the Future


Each week, I post a new article. The articles I post for January will all have a title and information related to some unique and wonderful aspect of communication and/or technical writing. Breaking this down into a monthly message is helping me find direction in what information I would like to include.

Another Internet search lead me to Follow These 3 Steps for Content Framework to Save Your Marketing Plan. This article describes growing a content tree. The roots are your messages, the branches are themes and the leaves are individual topics.

Resource: Yvonne Lyons

Using the graphic, I am able to drill-down and further define the content for the blog. The messages for this blog are defined by the departments it supports; Communications and Technical Writing. All messages contain some element of best practices, disciplines of communication and technical writing, and promotion of these programs at Chatham University.

Now that I have the plan complete I believe:

  1. I can come up with topics more easily.
  2. The topics I choose will be more interesting for readers.

This blog post fits right in with the January theme.

Unique and Wonderful – A New Year and a New Process for Defining a Content Strategy

Relaxation: Always a Best Practice

2018. Here we are at the end. The end of the year can be a frantic race to meet work deadlines, finish classes, and prepare for year end festivities. It is also an important time to focus on yourself. You need to look back on the year and be proud of the work you have completed, take time to plan for the year ahead, and then relax. For writers and communicators, finding time to relax may be difficult.

There may be days during each year that you feel that the work you do does not matter. Your reflection time will help you to realize the good in your work. No mater the type of work or schooling you participate in, the work you do impacts the lives of others. Maybe you are achieving your dream; maybe you are opening the door for someone else and their dream. You have the ability to change the direction of your company and positively impact its success. One person, in the right position, at the right time has the power to do that. Remember, you are your own brand. You are the face and voice of the brand. You owe it to yourself to be at your best.

Here are some methods of relaxation along with their benefits that you can try to incorporate into you end of year routine:

  • Deep breathing: reduces cortisol, the stress hormone. This calms your nervous system which results in reduced anxiety and stress.
  • Meditation: this can reduce stress and anxiety. In addition, some forms of mediation can result in improved self-image and a more positive outlook on life.
  • Soak in a hot tub: lowers blood pressure and aids in sleep
  • Exercise: boosts levels of serotonin and strengthens muscles and bones
  • Take a break: re-energizes your brain
  • Laugh: releases endorphins and relaxes the whole body. After a good laugh your muscles can remain relaxed for up to 45 minutes. Laughter also boosts the immune system.

Planning for the upcoming year can and should be exciting. The possibilities are truly endless. What vision do you have for your life? That is a question you should answer and write down if you have not already. With your vision in mind, set some goals. Goals should be attainable in both scope and number. I tend to favor goals in threes; three goals for the year. I follow this daily as well in my 3 things to accomplish today list. If your work or school does not conduct performance reviews or some kind of check in, be sure to set a calendar reminder to check in yourself a few times per year. That way you can be sure you are on track or adjust your track for changes that are happening around you.

Relax now and energize yourself for all that 2019 has for you. As a gymnast I had a common phrase with my team mates, “Never leave the mat on a bad one”. If you leave the mat on a bad one, you feel bad and the feeling can carry over to the next time you face the mat. My wish for you in these closing weeks of 2018 are to dig deep, finish 2018 strong, leave the mat, and come back stronger.

Job Profile: Technical Writer Skill set

When evaluating job postings for technical writer you want to be sure your skill set matches what the company or recruiter is looking for. Some job postings are clearer than others in what they are looking for in a writer. As a basic description, technical writers are responsible for designing and write documentation for a company’s products. This includes writing initial documentation, revising as the company revises the products, publishing the documentation, and for maintaining an online repository of those documents. This is the technical writer’s output, what they produce. Technical writers must also work with multiple Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in various departments to accomplish their work. This puts them in a unique position to actually be integrated into multiple departments outside of the writers or education department.

Technical Writers produce documentation, true but what do they really do…what does that mean. A review of current job postings reveals a myriad of responsibilities and required skills. I have included a list below along with what each requirement really means using software as the company example.

  • Work with individuals in departments including from management, quality assurance, customer support, and clients.
    • What this means: Long before a software is changed, or a new software is provided to a writer many individuals have been involved in the changes. These persons include business analysts who work with clients to design changes, developers who make the changes, and quality assurance who test the changes. These people are your best tools to determine ‘what really changed’ and ‘why did we make this change’. Depending on the company, writers may have direct access with customers and can use customer feedback to change documentation to improve its accuracy and usability. Without access to customers, your customer support department may be where documentation request come from.
  • Write, edit, and format release notes.
    • What this means: Let’s start with what release notes are. Release Notes are a document that accompanies a software release that list both the new features, changes to existing features, and known issues (bug fixes). This is sometimes called ‘What’s New’. Release notes are important to end users because this is how they determine which pieces of the software they use have been changed and must be re
  • Write, edit, and format online help project to coincide with application updates.
    • What this means: Documentation that is available within an application or on the Internet for end users is online help or the help file. This information looks different and has a different content structure than documentation in a Word or FrameMaker user guide. The help file is more than user guides put online, it is easy to use layouts and navigation, dynamic content, and searchable. Technical Writers can take advantage of HTML and XLM features of help authoring tools such as MadCap Flare and Adobe RoboHelp. These tools allow information to be single-sourced and available to be used in many different outputs. One of the greatest usability features these help authoring tools provide is to add context-sensitivity to the online help. When a user is on a specific screen/page of an application and open help, the content related to the page they are on automatically opens.
  • Update documentation to keep it current with recent release changes.
    • What this means: With each release all materials related to the application must be updated and available to users upon release. This includes release notes, user guides, online help, quick guides, and other relevant material. It is crucial to customer satisfaction and retention for customers to have access to these materials. It is important for technical writers to complete these materials when the release is wrapped up so that they can move on to the next release.
  • Create and format documentation templates.
    • What this means: All of the documentation pieces have a certain look whether they be created in Word, FrameMaker, PowerPoint, or a help authoring tool. This is the design or style element for these pieces and the template is created as a blank starting point for each document. Technical writers create these templates to be used by themselves and other team members. These templates ensure consistency when a new piece of documentation is started. For instance, if a topic template is created in the help authoring tool, when a writer starts a new topic it will be created with that template shell.
  • Ensure consistency in instructional content and naming conventions.
    • What this means: Consistency in content can be aided with the templates the technical writer designed and with the language used itself. It is important with a team of writers, that the documentation reads as though it is written by a single person. Documentation written this way is easier for end-users to understand. Naming conventions refers to the names of documentation files. These could be user guide Word or PDF files or any files in the online help. Consistency in naming these files makes them easier to find within the company SharePoint site or OneDrive locations. For example, these could be file names of items in the help file related to a demographics program.
      • DE_Add_Information.htm – All topics for demographics begin with DE_
      • DE_IMG_Add_Info.png – All images for demographics begin with DE_IMG_
      • DE_SN_SSN.FLSNP – All snippets for demographics begin with DE_SN_

Note: Snippets are reusable pieces of information. In this example SSN (Social Security Number) as a field may be used in numerous places in the online help. Create one snippet then insert it where needed. If the function of the field changes you only need to update the snippet and the places where it is inserted will automatically update.

  • Research application features, enhancements and resolved issues to write customer-facing content.
    • What this means: All of the documentation written involves writing for new features and improving existing documentation for existing features. Research is how you determine the changes to documentation. Each company has its own systems for tracking work lists or items to be changed. These work lists will define system changes, their scope, and specification documents or Specs. Specs are written by analysts and used by developers to code changes to the application and by quality assurance to test the software. These specs are a technical writer’s best source to determine what has changed. When this information is combined with a walk through of the last release and the upcoming release a more complete picture of changes can be revealed. If sprint review meetings are held to demonstrate changes, these can provide any late changes that were discovered during programming, but did not get added to a spec.
  • Experience with development methods; waterfall, agile , or others.
    • What this means: A software development process is how work is divided into phases leading up to release. This can also be called development life cycle. There are a few methodologies used by companies. Technical writers will have to be familiar with which process is being used at their company and how they work within the method. Below are some descriptions of development methodologies:
      • Agile: Requirements and solutions are worked on in a collaborative effort of self-organized cross function teams with their end users. Releases contain less changes an are released more frequently.
      • Waterfall: This process is less iterative and flexible. Process flows in one direction; downward through the phases from conception to deployment and maintenance.
      • Prototyping: Involves creating incomplete versions of the software program. A great benefit of this process is the designer can get feedback from end users early in a project and make changes with less financial impact.
      • Rapid Application Development: This process puts less emphasis on planning and more emphasis on an adaptive process. With less planning, the process is more flexible to take advantage of knowledge gained during the project to improve the end program.

Nearly all  technical writer job postings require a bachelor’s degree in Technical Writing or related communications or technology field. Often these indicate that an equivalent master’s degree is preferred. In the past month I have found the first job posting I have seen which requires a Master of Technical Writing degree.  I believe that a master’s degree in a professional writing or technical writing will become a standard requirement for Technical Writer job postings. With this in mind I am forever grateful for the Master of Professional Writing program at Chatham University.

Making the Most of Networking

Networking Image

How likely are you to drive to a foreign location, full of strangers, and start a conversation with a dozen or more of the strangers? It is an odd set of circumstances, but this is what we put ourselves through at networking events. Networking events can be stressful for introverted and extroverted alike. There are some ways you can prepare ahead of the event to have a more successful networking function.

Be sure to see the list below of networking events related to communication and technical writing.

Know your event

Thorough preparation makes its own luck.” Joe Poyer

When reviewing a networking event to attend, be sure the subject aligns with your work and career goals. Are you interested in technology, teaching, programming, plumbing, camping? If the event is focused on the same thing, it may be a match for you. Once you have decided on an event, the other things to be familiar with are directions to the location, event and parking fees, and length of the event.

Set a goal for the event

People with goals succeed because they know where they’re going.” Earl Nightingale

Identify one or a few goals that you want to accomplish at the event. Perhaps there is one new person you would love to meet and establish a connection with. Maybe this could be someone you already know and want to strengthen your relationship with.  A simple goal by be to collect a set number of business cards or to make a specific number of connections. Set the goal and stay focused on the goal. It is very important to remember when meeting new people, this is your only chance for the ‘first impression’.

Do not be timid

It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” Theodore Roosevelt

It can be difficult to start a conversation with a stranger. At a networking event you are all in the same boat. It is awkward for everyone. Start with the basics, say hello, introduce yourself, and as a basic question. For example, ‘How long have you been a part of this organization?’. The type of question could vary by the type of event. This author attended a networking function that was by invitation only and was set up by one person. Everyone at the event knew the organizer. The question that was asked the most was, ‘How do you know the organizer? Be sure to ask questions that will help you make a connection, after all that is what you are here for. Small talk is an art and will take time to master.

Networking Opportunities

Here is a list of a few  Pittsburgh based conferences and meetups on communicating and technical writing:

Association of Teachers of Technical WritingAccountability in Technical Communication, Pittsburgh, PA March 12-13, 2019

Grants Professionals of Western PA – Grant Writers, Next Meetup – Wednesday November 28, 2018

Pittsburgh Business Times – Holds multiple meetings per month with networking opportunities.

Pittsburgh Technology Council – Holds multiple meetings per month with networking opportunities.

Shadyside Young Professionals, Next Meetup – Monday November 12, 2018

Shut Up & Write! Pittsburgh, PA, Next Meetup – Friday November 9, 2018

Tech Happy Hour – Pittsburgh, Nets Meetup – Wednesday December 5, 2018, Mario’s East Side Saloon, Walnut Street

If would like to suggest another networking event, add it to the comments.

Content Automation: Impact on Communicators and Writers

Content Automation

Content Automation Defined

Automation is a term we here most being applied to manufacturing; technology and machinery that controls the production and delivery of goods. Performing tasks previously performed by humans. Automation can be incorporated into various industries including communication and technical writing as Content Automation. Communicators/writers create a large volume of content for specific people, at specific times, on specific devices. Traditional methods of creation, management, and delivery can be cumbersome, time consuming, and do not prevent duplication of content.

Content automation the process gives communicators/writers a whole new process to create and manage reusable chunks of content. The chunks can then be assembled, tracked, managed and updated. When Artificial Intelligence (AI) is applied to content these chunks can be self-assembling.

Content and User Experience (UX)

Improving user experience is a top responsibility for communicators/writers. Accuracy of information and timeliness of delivery are keys to increasing UX. There is some debate on whether content strategy is a part of UX strategy. Some say no because the content does not live within an application. It is this writer’s opinion that content must be considered a part of UX simply because the users use it. Communications and written aids do impact success levels.

Clients or end users need to have the most accurate and up-to-date standard operating procedures (SOPs) related to the job they are trying to perform. For instance, emergency procedures for evacuating nursing homes during a natural disaster. These procedures could be different today than for the last disaster even if that was in the last few weeks. User experience with content comes down to correct content, at the correct time, and the correct place.

Start with a Content Audit

When trying to adopt content automation, the first step is to know your content. Perform a content audit to determine the current state of the materials. This involves how it is created, by which teams, the roles of the communicators/writers, current tools used, method of deliver, and the frequency it needs to be updated. The results of the content audit will guide your next steps. Once the content is evaluated, you can set goals for the next iteration of the content.

Power of Content Automation

When traditional static documents (Word or PDF) are created. This is time consuming, has a higher error rate, and the information is locked in the document and cannot be reused. When content automation is applied, communicators/writers create intelligent content or reusable components of text, charts, images, and video. Once a component is created it can be added to multiple documents; it is reused over and over. When the component is changed each use of it is updated automatically. These components become the single source of truth.

Let’s say your company is hosting a trade show.  You have created online, and print versions of the vendor showcase floor layout, session guide, and networking events.  As session presenters are accepted you add them to a location and time for presentation. John Presenter has an emergency and cannot make it to his session nor will he be displaying in the vendor showcase. He offers to send Jane in his place. If you are single sourcing/chunking information, you can change John’s name to Jane on  in the main location or chunk where this information appears, rather than to change the name on each online or print piece. Once changed, the information will automatically update in the online and print versions.

Figure 1: John Presenter

Figure 2: Jane Presenter

Impact for Communicators/Writers

The goal of content automation for communicators/writers is to allow them to focus on their strengths. Content automation allows these workers to focus less on managing information and reviewing materials. They can spend more time on creating original content.

Neil Perlin has identified 4 characteristics of content in Information 4.0 which includes content automation. These characteristics embody not only the words that are written, but the format, chunking, release, timeliness, accessibility, and responsiveness to context of that information.

  • Dynamic: Content chunks that can be updated in real-time. When information in the system changes, the content or the user should be able to trigger its build or generation, rather than the writer.
  • Ubiquitous: Content available everywhere, independent of device. It must be online searchable and find-able.
  • Offered: Specific content made available when users encounter an issue rather than all information related to all tasks all the time. Content is online, print medium is ruled out.
  • Spontaneous: Content triggered by the context. Meaning the orientation of the device being used or perhaps a specific context for an issue. An example is that information for de-icing a plane would only be available if the outside temperature is near 32 degrees.

Extracting Images from Word Documents

It can be time consuming to manually resize and save images that appear in Word® as an image file. This involves clicking on each image then saving to a specific location. For a document with fifty images, you would have to repeat this fifty times. Sometimes it is also necessary to have the actual image rather than to copy the image from one Word file to another; perhaps a call-out needs added to the image or the image is bound by a style in Word. There are a few ways to extract images from Word documents to a Windows Explorer folder; Converting the document to a .ZIP file, saving the document as a web page, or importing the document to a Help Authoring Tool such as Flare. Once extracted, the files can be opened in a graphics application such as Photoshop or Capture.

If you have another way to extract images from Word documents, please comment and share your knowledge.

Converting Document to .ZIP File:

Note: If an image is inserted in Word and is then cropped, when the .Zip trick is performed the extracted image file will contain the uncropped image at 100% of its original size.

Note: If an image is inserted in Word and is then resized, when the .Zip trick is performed the extracted image file will be at 100% of its original size.

For this to work file extensions cannot be hidden in Windows Explorer. To make file extensions show:

  1. Click Start menu, then Control Panel.
  2. Click Appearances and Personalization.
  3. Click File Explorer Options.
  4. Click View tab.
  5. Uncheck the Hide extensions for known file types.

      Changing the Word file to Zip.

  1. Create a copy of the file because the Word file cannot be retrieved from the .ZIP.
  2. Caution: Once this process is complete, the Word file will no longer appear in Windows Explorer. If you have not made a copy of the Word file and converted the copy to a zip, the original file cannot be retrieved.
  3. Open the doc in Word and Save As .docx. Note: This Zip Trick will not work if the file extension is .doc.
  4. In Windows explorer, change the file extension to .zip.
  5. A prompt will appear to verify you want to change the file name extension. Click Yes.
  6. Double-click on the .zip file to open it.
  7. Navigate to the Word/Media folder. Each image from the document will appear as a .PNG file. Image#.PNG – they will be ordered starting at 1 in the order they appear in the document.

Saving Document as a Web Page

  1. Open the document in Word.
  2. Click File, then Save As.
  3. In the Save As Type list, select Web Page (*.htm,*html). Do Not select Web Page Filtered, this will result in lower resolution images.
  4. Click Save.
  5. Navigate to the save location and Open the Extracted Images_files folder. Each image from the document will appear as a .PNG file. Image#.PNG – they will be ordered starting at 1 in the order they appear in the document.

Importing Document to Help Authoring Tool

My standard Help authoring tool is Flare. These steps reflect that tool. It is possible to complete the same process with RoboHelp, with slightly different steps. While images can be extracted with this tool, it is the most complicated because it is necessary to have some familiarity with Flare. The Advantage in this method is that images will be named with the section/chapter they appear along with a number, rather than just Image#.png. This can make it easy to keep the images organized when there are many images and to possibly split the image work across multiple writers for edits.

  1. Open Flare and click the Project menu.
  2. Click Import, then MS Word Documents. The import wizard will open.
  3. Follow the wizard screens to create a project, select the Word document, new topic styles, options, stylesheet, paragraph and character mapping, then click Finish. The new topic styles setting determines the name of the files once extracted. For instance, if Heading 1 is selected to break to a new topic, the image names will be the name of the heading followed by a number, the order starting at 1 that the images appear in that heading section.
  4. Click Accept on the Accept Imported Documents popup.
  5. Navigate to the Content/Resources/Images/[Document Name]. The images appear in a folder with the same name as the document. Remember, if a new topic style was chosen in the import wizard the images will have the name of the heading section they appear. Otherwise all images are given the name of the original document followed by a number.

Proposals with a Purpose: How to Write a Successful White Paper

What is a White Paper?

A white paper is a document in which you propose a solution to a problem and target it toward the government, a specific person, company, organization, etc. White papers are extremely important for communicators so that you can effectively persuade someone to get on your side and illicit action to be taken or change to be made. These documents are particularly important in the realms of the environment and healthcare as it is important to let people know what kinds of problems are happening and what type of governmental changes need to be seen. You will need a white paper to successfully get policymakers on your side.  So, ask yourself, what do you want to see changed, or resolved? If it is something you are passionate about, your words will flow easily and you will more likely be able to illicit an emotional response. Keep reading for tips on how to compose a successful white paper.


Know your target audience. If it’s for the government, know which political party you will target; know what issues the people in that party stand behind; know the demographics in the area and what is important to the people in it; and understand that getting proposals passed does take a certain amount of emotion. On the other hand, if it’s a nonprofit that you are targeting, you should take a look at their mission statement and values, what it is they stand behind, and the kinds of projects they support already. It is necessary to promote facts and evidence with stories and emotion to get the most positive feedback possible.

What to Include?

You will need:

Title: Be clear, concise, and catchy. Fine tune it to your audience. Make sure they can easily tell from the title what they’re going to be diving into once they read your document.

Abstract: This is a quick summary about what the entire document is about. However, don’t be boring with this part. Make your abstract attention-grabbing so people will want to read on. On the other hand, provide enough valuable information that people that really don’t have the time to read the whole document can understand exactly what it’s about.

Introduction: Now you can start to talk about the issue and provide some background facts about it.

Problem: Define your problem, and keep you target audience in mind.

Solution: Be subtle with this section. Don’t be too in your readers face with ridiculous claims on how you can solve the problem. Talk about your solution, and provide some claims from specialists and other people. Be sure to avoid jargon and speak in simplistic terms.

Benefits: This is where you can prove why your solution will work for your target audience. Quotes from other people are okay for this section as well.

Summary: Include the best benefits of your solution to the problem, but also be sure to include the risks.  End this section with the most important takeaway you want them to have of the entire document. This section needs to be written as if it could be a document entirely of itself.

And, most importantly,

The Call to Action

I want to take the time to talk a little extra about writing your call to action. Don’t be afraid of this section. Ask people for what you want. Show a direct link between the cause at hand and how the person reading it can help. Make sure they know if you want them to sign a petition, donate money, try out a product, etc. Then, if it is worthwhile, give some incentive to them for taking the action. So, don’t only tell people to take action; tell them why it’s a great idea that they do so. What’s in it for them? Even the causes with the best intentions are not able to garner attention if there’s nothing in it for the people.

Graphics are Good

People’s eyes are drawn toward pictures, it’s another way of communicating and learning, so add them to your paper. It will break up the words a bit and add a visual component.

Now What?

Once you’ve composed a visually appealing white paper that includes a clear call to action, you can post it online, on your website, on to social media, wherever you think you can get more and more people to stand behind your idea and get action to be taken. Since, so many people are on social media now, you will be able to have supporters share the post and circulate it even further. Be bold and even hand deliver your document. This could potentially increase your chances of the document being seen. This document should not go to one set of eyes only, get it seen and don’t let it go extinct without actions being taken.

Better Business Writing: The Anatomy of a Business Report

The world of business is fast paced and sometimes relies on quick decisions. For creative writers, crafting a business report can be tricky because messages must be very concise. Details are great and still necessary, but the audience of a technical document needs the most important information without “fluff” around it. To stay on track, here is a break down of the necessary pieces of a basic business report.

Executive Summary
This is essentially a mini version of the report. The reader should be able to see all major findings and make a decision based on the concise information given in the executive summary. Often, this could be the only part your audience has time to read so it must get straight to the point.

To begin the report, state the problem and any questions that need to be asked in order to solve the problem. Avoid giving too much history on the topic; that comes next.

Here you have an opportunity to provide the purpose and scope of the report.  Give any necessary details needed for the reader to understand why the report was compiled. This puts the problem into context.

Interpret and analyze research and data that are used to support the recommendations of the report. Subheadings are helpful here to guide the reader through all of the information. If you decide to insert a figure such as a chart or graph to visually represent information, make sure you name your figure and explain what it is showing.

Without giving any new information, simply summarize the findings from the discussion section. You have already explained the implications in the discussion section, so this is a summary. Clarity is key!

Now that you have presented data to support any recommendations you may have, present them in a clear way, such as a bulleted list. They should be command statements so the organization can potentially use your recommendations.

You may have additional items that were referenced in the text that you need extra space to expand on. This can include surveys, interview transcripts, and even photos useful for the report. Use the appendix for this information.

All sources throughout the document should be in APA format, and given a proper citation on the reference page so the reader can do addition information if necessary

Depending on your specific task or topic, you may add or take away some sections. Formats for business reports are flexible, but having a basic outline helps you to hit all important areas. And remember, above all else, be clear and be concise.