hands at a laptop keyboard

What Is It? The Write-Out

Post your write-out to your blog, making sure to tag your post according to the assignment instructions.

Writing as preparing

An important part of preparing for a presentation is writing out your thoughts.

I call this a “write-out” because you are writing out what you intend to say—not necessarily the exact words, but all the ideas, stories, arguments, examples, transitions, and so on.

Why use writing to prepare for a talk? Why not develop ideas by speaking?

Writing as transforming

Many people think of writing as a “knowledge-telling” activity: I have an idea and I write it down. In this model, writing is simply a form of output.

However, research has repeated shown that writing is a “knowledge-transforming” activity, rather than a “knowledge-telling” activity. Writing is cognitively demanding, and the act of putting ideas into words almost always transforms those ideas.

Outlines aren’t enough, mainly because they don’t force presenters to figure out effective transitions between points. Without transitions expressing key relationships between points, the talk becomes just a list of ideas, without a clear story or arc.

Thus the write-out is a way of exploring and advancing your ideas. It may be challenging to prepare this way—it might be easier to make notecards or an outline. But writing out your ideas in full will almost make a stronger presentation in the end.

What does a write-out look like?

Plan on about 100-125 words per minute of speaking, so if you are planning a 15-minute presentation, your write-out should be about 1500-1800 words. We each read at a different pace, so be sure to time yourself during repeated rehearsals of your talk—this will help you know how long your write-out should be.

  • A write-out is not an outline (although feel free to make an outline! it’s one of the most common ways people prepare for public speaking).
  • A write-out is not a script to read or memorize—it’s a way of developing your thinking and preparing your talk.
  • A write-out is a reasonably complete written version of your talk. Formatting and so on doesn’t matter much—this document is part of your preparation.

A write-out is also an insurance policy. If you are ill on the day of your presentation, someone else can read it for you. They wouldn’t be able to do that with index cards , or a slideshow. Someone else reading your write-out won’t make a great presentation, but your ideas would be shared with the audience.

For more information about writing and cognition

The terms “knowledge-telling” and “knowledge-transforming” come from Bereiter, C., & Scardamalia, M. (1987). The psychology of written composition. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

In the field of writing studies, a foundational article in this area is Toby Fulwiler’s “Writing: An Act of Cognition,” published in New Directions for Teaching and Learning in 1982.

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