How to Write When You Don’t Know Where to Start

closeup of a start button on a machine

Here’s your dilemma: Your boss needs a summary of what you found in your market research for a potential new product, but you don’t know where to start.

Try this:

Sum it up. Think about what you would tell a friend about a movie you just saw. You wouldn’t run through the whole plot or give excessive details. You’d give a synopsis. Write a couple sentences about the heart of what you want to say. Then you can build from there, adding in details where necessary.

Do a quick outline. This doesn’t have to be a long, complex outline. You just need to get a few highlights on the blank screen so you can have a starting point. What are the main points you want to mention? List the most important ones first. You can always rearrange them later if you decide that one is more important than you initially thought.

Start in the middle or at the end. A blank screen can be intimidating, and the pressure of having a great introduction can make you discard every thought you start to type. Maybe you have a great conclusion in mind that makes a recommendation based on your findings. Start with that and put it at the bottom of the page. Then build your case from the middle by writing about the market research you did. You could focus on demographics for a paragraph or two, for example. Explain what you found and how your company’s potential new product could serve that demographic. Do this for the other essential aspects of your research. Then go back to the top and write the introduction, which will be easy to write because you already know what’s coming next.

Think about the purpose of what you’re trying to write. Are you trying to present data in an objective way or are you trying to persuade the reader to agree with your recommendation? Spelling out your goal — even if you delete that sentence later — can help focus your mind on what should follow.

Start small. Even if you only have 15 minutes to spend before your next meeting, that’s enough to capture a few thoughts. Once you’ve got a few sentences down, that blank screen won’t look so scary the next time you look at it. Go back to it later and spend another chunk of time when you can. Repeat. Repeat. You may be able to prevent writer’s block by working on several things at a time. When you get stuck on one project, switch to another.

Now, get started!

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