Form follows function

This article is the fourth in a series. It was first published on June 22nd 2020, via LinkedIn.

When striving to make your report or presentation the best it can be, there are three key principles to keep in mind. In this article I’ll describe the first of these and why I think it’s so important.

Principle #1 – Form follows function

The maxim ‘form follows function’ is considered to have originated with late 19th and early 20th century architecture and industrial design. In this context, it signifies that the shape of a building or object should primarily relate to its intended function or purpose.

The same principle applies to a document.

When putting together your next proposal or slide deck, first ask yourself – What am I trying to achieve with this document? This will define the document’s FUNCTION.

How you answer that question will then help determine its FORM; e.g. length, page orientation, medium (Word, PowerPoint, online, other?).

Once you’re satisfied that you’ve answered this question, it’s time to start planning.

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Remember, there are four stages to efficient business writing:

  1. Think – structure, headings, sub-headings
  2. Draft
  3. Revise
  4. Proof

It’s the first stage of this process – THINK – where your planning takes place. This is far and away the most important part of any writing process. If you properly understand what it is that you’re trying to achieve (i.e. you understand the ‘problem’), you’re well on your way to producing a document that hits the mark.

Always start this process with a blank sheet of paper. I can’t stress this enough. Never copy someone else’s document…design your own. This holds true even if the someone you’re copying is you! If you set out to replicate what you’ve already done, you’ll continue to be limited by your own past.

Be intentional. It’s hard to hit a target you’re not aiming at.”
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Make it ‘fit-for-purpose’

In my industry (insurance broking) we like to say that we tailor a suite of services to each individual client, to ensure that our offering is ‘fit-for-purpose’. We do this by, metaphorically, starting with a blank sheet of paper. That is, we take the time to understand the client in order to design and build an insurance program that’s bespoke to them.

The same principle applies to any report or proposal that we issue to them. Now, on more than one occasion I’ve been asked to grab the most recent report of its kind, change the name, and tweak it around the edges. We’d never do that when designing an insurance program. Nor should we do it when designing our documents.

Food for thought.

Author: Steven Macek

I learnt a long time ago that in order to grow it is necessary to step outside one’s comfort zone. As a person who craves growth and change this has led me to continually seek out opportunities to make myself uncomfortable, whether physically, emotionally or psychologically. The (Dis)Comfort Zone blog is a vehicle for cataloging those experiences.

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