Understanding why you are writing helps you determine for whom to write, what to write, and what your specific goals for writing should be. Budinski suggests that, after identifying your underlying reasons for writing, your initial plan of action should include three basic elements: identify' your audience, determine the scope of your document, and specify your particular objectives (2001, p. 56). We would add a fourth: learn everything practical about your subject before you start writing.


Planners must write to meet the needs and expectations of their audience. These will vary from situation to situation. If you are writing a general plan, your audience will be the residents, politicians, and other planners who will work with the general plan. If you are preparing a traffic impact analysis, your audience may include traffic engineers, a developer, and a planning commission. If you are writing a grant for a research or design project, your audience will be the sponsoring agency’s selection committee. If you are writing for scholarly publication, your initial audience will be a journal editor and a panel of reviewers, and your eventual audience may include the journal’s entire readership.

Whatever the context, it is crucial to clearly identify' the person, group, or organization that you are writing for. Your audience will determine the style, tone, and structural format of your document, including word choices, length and complexity of sentences and paragraphs, and overall organization (Katz, 2009).


Scope refers to boundaries on the technical depth, the level of detail, and the number of ideas/cases/subjects in your written document (Budinski, 2001, p. 60). How much time do you have to complete the project? Is the project relevant to just one place, or will it be applicable on a larger scale? Does your audience expect a succinct summary or an extensive, detailed analysis?

Answering these questions will help you identify what needs to be included in your document, and what does not. Both the writer and the reader will benefit when the scope of the writing is focused and refined.

Research You Can Use

Figure 2.0 Research You Can Use


Identifying your audience and setting your scope will paint a clear picture of the style, organizational structure, and range of ideas covered in your document. The other crucial component is a list of goals and objectives: the particular outcomes your writing will produce.

As Budinski explains, specific project objectives (outcomes) are different from the overall purpose (intention) for writing (2001, p. 63). If you are writing a plan, as just described, the purpose is to take stock of the community and to craft a future vision. Goals and objectives might be to increase transit-oriented development, to improve access to open space, to reduce water pollution, etc. If you are writing for scholarly publication, your purpose is to complete a research article that adds to a body of disciplinary knowledge. Goals and objectives might be to model the influences on transit ridership, to explain the relationship between open space and mental health, or to test a green infrastructure design for its ability to decontaminate storm water runoff. Along with the scope and audience, your specific objectives will determine the substantive content of your writing—the words you choose, and the way you put them together.

Learn Everything Practical

Read and research your subject thoroughly before starting to write. The authors of this chapter copy and paste significant points from earlier writings on a subject into a Word file. Another approach is taking written notes. A third is highlighting key points on a pdf or hard copy. It is amazing how quickly one can become relatively expert on a subject just by reading widely and conscientiously.

In the experience of the authors of this chapter, when writing on a subject is fuzzy it is usually because thinking on the subject is fuzz}', and the way to clarify' is to learn more about the subject. When writing is blocked or sluggish, it is usually because the writer doesn’t have enough information about the subject. Go back and learn more and the writing block will likely disappear.


Before moving to the mechanics of writing, let us return to the example of Bent Flyvbjerg, reflecting on audience, scope, and objectives. For the 2002 article, we know that his initial audience was a JPER editor and a panel of reviewers, and that his extended audience eventually included the entire JPER readership. Regarding scope and objectives, Flyvbjerg’s article is wonderfully succinct and clear:

I decided to study how rationality and power shape planning in the town where I live and work, Aalborg, Denmark.

—Bent Flyvbjerg, 2002, p. 355

Flyvbjerg could be certain that his specialized audience would have a complex understanding of the words “rationality” and “power.” For a social scientist versed in critical theory, these terms have specific meanings that clearly express the author’s

Technical Writing 27 objectives. This is an article about the underlying, structural elements of public policy. What reasons do planners and politicians use to legitimate or justify their decisions? How do the dynamics of unequal power relationships impact those decisions and related decision-making processes? Specifically, how do these issues come to bear in the town of Aalborg, Denmark? With one simple sentence, Flyvbjerg alerts his expert JPER audience as to exactly what his article's scope and objectives will be. His knowledge of place was unquestionable—wide and deep—since he was a long-time resident and student of Aalborg.

Writing this well is a tall order. Even crafting clear, simple sentences is more difficult than it may seem. But the process is not a mystery. If you understand and practice the basic mechanics of writing, you will learn to write well.

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