Whether you are crafting a story, a blog post, or a substantive email, focusing your writing gives you a sense of where you are going.

Many messages and articles have you scratching your head as you move into the third paragraph wondering, why is she writing? what is she trying to tell me? what does she want me to do?

Disorganized, meandering writing results from not having a focus, an important step in the writing process, whether you are writing a speech, a short article, a formal memo, or even a letter to your insurance company or a customer complaint. The late Don Murray, a Pulitzer-winning writer and writing coach, said in The Craft of Revision, “An effective piece of writing says one thing, and before rewriting a draft, you should be able to state it in a single sentence.” The sentence can say, The essence of this message is _____________. You fill in the blank.

To find your focus, ask yourself a few questions:

  • What’s the main point I want to convey?
  • What is the theme of my story?
  • What am I really trying to say here?
  • What do I want the person to do?

You need to this early. Writing problems almost always result from mistakes the writer made earlier in the process. When a writer struggles to compose a draft, it is because she was not organized to begin with. When the writing is not organized, it is because the writer never identified the focus of the piece.

The benefit of focusing: It limits what you can include

When you have identified your core idea, everything else in the piece should relate to that idea so that those details support your meaning. Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar at the Poynter Institute for journalists, reminds us in Writing Tools to separate the significant from the interesting when you are editing. Many things might seem interesting, but they are irrelevant if they do not relate to the main idea. You can say several things about your topic as long as they are within the scope of your focus.