Being a teacher, I am accustomed to acronyms: Did you complete your PDP? This year we are working on PLNs. Are you attending the SST meeting? The new standards are about the four C‘s……I am also used to every expert’s different take on writing: Think Sheets, Power Writing, Brainstorming, Spider Webs, Slug Notes.…..so I thought about writing and what its important elements might be, and I came up with TOMAS, which I presented at one of the corporate writing workshops I conducted.
A good piece of writing should encompass these five things: TOMAS (Pronounced Toe-Maas, with the accent on the second syllable)
T= thought. You cannot write unless you put some thought behind your writing. You need to have something to say, or why write? Outlines, brainstorms, lists, notes, spider web drawings . . . all these things can help you get your thoughts down.
O= organization. An unorganized piece of writing is a mess and difficult to read and to understand. The information is of little use if it is presented in a disorganized fashion. Writing needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. Writing of more than 5 or 10 sentences needs to be divided into paragraphs. Paragraphs should stick to one topic, generally introduced in the first sentence of the paragraph. Information within one paragraph shouldn’t go from subject to subject. There should be an introduction and conclusion to your writing, whether it is a sentence (in a shorter or one-paragraph piece), or introductory and concluding paragraphs in a longer piece. Outlines and first drafts are good for organizing.
M=mechanics. Ah, here is my favorite! By mechanics we mean the grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling that make our writing consistent, and easy to read and understand. These components are a “given” for good writing. Besides sounding and looking better, writing with good mechanics is just plain easier to read.
A= audience. This is a surprisingly important component to writing and one that is often overlooked. When my students write an essay, I am the audience. I don’t want to read slang, language shortcuts (gonna, 2 for the word too, cool), and writing more suitable for a text message to a friend. Yes, this language is fine for a text message to a friend, but it won’t do in a college application essay or a cover letter. It is important to keep your audience in mind. You don’t want to use company or occupation-specific jargon if you are writing to people unfamiliar with the company or the profession. The general audience will not understand complex legal or medical terms, for example. Also keep in mind the education level of your audience when choosing words. If you are writing to an all-female audience, don’t use he as the gender-neutral pronoun! And don’t talk down to your audience! We generally don’t like being written to as if we were children.
S=style. Organization, mechanics, and writing to the appropriate audience can be taught. Gathering your thoughts before you write can also be taught to a point (we can’t so easily be taught how to think). But style—that one isn’t easy to teach and may not even be possible to teach. Each of us has his or her own writing style. Some people just seem to have a talent for writing. Others find writing more difficult, and their writing is more of a chore. Is it possible to develop style? Probably. Of course style in creative writing (fiction, and creative nonfiction like some memoir) is a little different than style in writing letters or white papers. However letters, blog posts, white papers, and articles certainly have style too. Reading a great deal in one’s writing genre probably helps fiction writers (which is not my speciality right now, so I can only guess) develop their style, as well as just writing, writing, writing . . . .
So next time you sit down to write anything, think about TOMAS: Thought, Organization, Mechanics, Audience, and Style. Happy Writing!