Professional and Technical Writing Processes: Composing

Overview: This article will discuss the role of assembling and organizing relevant research and/or data in order to compose correspondence or a document that solves a writing problem.

  • Compose an evidence-based solution for a writing problem by assembling and organizing relevant research and/or data


Composing involves more than putting your thoughts into words. Composing involves assembling ideas, words, sentences, paragraphs, and visuals to accurately, ethically, and coherently address a writing situation. This task of assembly can be best accomplished in two phases—outlining and drafting. An outline serves as a blueprint for your draft. A draft presents the careful assembly of particular units to form a whole.  


Contrary to popular opinion, outlining is part of the composition process. Once you have analyzed your audience and selected an appropriate medium, you are ready to begin writing your outline. Your outline is like a “blueprint” for your draft: it is a design that tells you how you will organize your message, how you will sequence your key ideas, and how you will support those ideas. In contrast to a draft, you are the audience of your outline. As the table below illustrates, though, you will keep your audience in mind as you write your outline.

ProductsWriter Aware of Target Audience(s)?Audience of Product?Polished Product?

Begin an outline by creating a list of information you think the readers will need or expect. For example, if you are crafting a document about the Environmental Protection Agency’s role in fluoride in drinking water, your list might include:

  • Explain what the EPA is doing about fluoride in drinking water
  • Define what fluoride is
  • Explain how fluoride gets into drinking water
  • List some of the effects of fluoride
  • Include specific data
  • Refer to Safe Water Drinking Act 

Next, organize the list into a map that will guide the reader from point to point. Create an introduction, body, and conclusion, and then decide how you will divide each topic into subtopics. An outline for the points above might look like this:

I. Introduction—Define fluoride

II. Body

  1. Explain how fluoride gets into drinking water
  2. List some of the effects of fluoride
  3. Explain how fluoride is regulated (1974 Safe Drinking Water Act; MCLGS, Maximum  Contaminate Levels)

III. Conclusion—Describe the EPA standards

For a long, complex document, use a format that includes:

  • Roman numerals (i.e., I, II, III) to indicate the three main sections (introduction, body, conclusion)
  • Indented capital letters (e.g., A, B, C) to indicate the first level of subtopics
  • Indented Arabic numerals (e.g., 1, 2, 3, 4) to indicate the next level of subtopics
  • Indented lowercase letters (e.g., a, b, c, d) to indicate the third level of topics

This outlining strategy is known as alphanumeric notation. Other types of outlines, including full sentence outlines and decimal outlines, may also help you compose an effective design for your draft.

After you have completed your outline, you are ready to write a draft.


Drafts offer you the opportunity to coherently present your ideas in chunks as you choose powerful words to create unity and coherence and to project a positive image of you and the company. As you draft, it can be useful to think of the various unit levels of a composition—words, sentences, paragraphs, and visuals (or figures).

Select powerful words by choosing concrete versus abstract words. An abstract word expresses a quality, a concept, or a characteristic. A concrete word stands for something you can touch, see, or visualize. The problem with abstractions is that they can be interpreted differently by audience members, particularly international audiences. Balance abstractions by choosing strong, concrete words that are familiar to the reader and that do not consist of jargon.

Abstract LanguageConcrete Language
We need office supplies.We need 16-pound copy paper.
Please contact someone in a high position.Please contact a supervisor or a manager.
They will discuss the problem soon.The retention committee will discuss the problem with turnover on August 15.
They received a lot of feedback.The Training Department received 121 responses to their annual survey of employees. 
Someone called with an inquiry about the meeting.Marissa Rodriguez called to ask what time the March 6th sales meeting will end. 

Assemble strong, powerful words into effective sentences: carefully assemble ideas and supporting details by employing varying sentence types—simple, compound, complex, and compound complex sentences. Vary the subjects of your sentences. Maintain a focus on the “you culture,” perhaps beginning many sentences with the subject “You.

Types of SentencesDescription of Sentence TypeExamples of Types of Sentences
Simple SentenceContains one complete thought (an independent clause) with a subject and predicate verbThe annual sales meeting will begin at 8 a.m.
Compound SentenceContains two complete but related thoughts. The two thoughts (independent clauses) may be joined by a conjunction, a semicolon, or by a conjunctive adverb.The Institute for Responsible Technology protects consumers, so we will research its viewpoint on Genetically Engineered Foods.
Complex SentenceContains an independent clause (a complete thought) and a dependent clause (a thought that cannot stand alone by itself).After conducting research, I started writing a feasibility analysis for converting Company X’s office building from oil to gas heating.
Compound Complex SentenceContains at least two independent clauses and one dependent clause.The large training room in the Corporate Professional Development Area (8th floor) would be ideal for the next meeting; before submitting your next report, please confirm that this room can be reserved for March 10th.

Assemble effective sentences into cohesive paragraphs by beginning each paragraph with a topic sentence. The topic sentence should foreground the content of the paragraph. Then, sequence supporting details by carefully listing them in the order of importance. Use methods such as comparison and contrast, cause and effect, classification, and problem and solution to assemble your supporting details.

Last, add figures to illustrate or represent specific information. For example, if you want to illustrate either the increase or decrease of fluoride in drinking water from 1974 to the current year, you might consider integrating a bar graph into your composition.

Workplace Example

Let’s look at an example from a workplace situation.

Figure 1 Source:

Imagine that the manager of human resources asks you to compose a step-by-step instruction memo for employees. The memo should explain the steps to follow if a fire-related emergency occurs. You create a writing plan, knowing that you will need time to research fire-safety protocol, compose an outline for your document, compose a draft of your document, and submit a draft of your document to a colleague for review.

To create an outline, begin by composing a list of information that you think the reader will expect and need:

  • Explain why the company is disseminating fire-safety instructions
  • Define situations in which instructions should be followed
  • Explain the dangers of a fire
  • List steps to follow in case of a fire
  • Refer to the employee handbook for a map of the facility

Next, organize the list into a blueprint that will guide the reader from step to step. 

I. Introduction—Define fire-related emergency and explain why procedures are being updated

II. Body

  • Explain how fires get started in a workplace
  • List some of the effects of workplace fires
  • List and explain the steps to follow in the event that a workplace fire occurs

III. Conclusion—Describe the company standards and policies

Begin the memo with a brief introduction that addresses the danger and importance of fire-related emergencies and that explains the reasons for the dissemination of the memo.

As you compose the body of the memo, begin each step with a powerful action verb to create unity in all of the steps and to project a positive image of you and the company.

For example, instead of “survey” or “evaluate the situation,” try “pull the fire alarm to alert others of the presence of a fire.”

Instead of “Consider the safety of others,” try, “Accompany visitors to the emergency exits.” 

Next, assemble strong, powerful words into effective sentences. Use an enumerated list to present the steps in the memo.

  1. Pull the fire alarm.
  2. Pick up the emergency phone and contact the manager of your building.
  3. Dial 911 in order to alert local safety personnel about the fire-related emergency in your building.
  4. Accompany visitors to the emergency exits, and exit the building immediately so that fire-safety personnel can extinguish the fire.

Finally, add a brief conclusion that reminds the reader about the importance of the memo and the need to keep it in a visible place. If necessary, include images that represent various fire-safety locations or exits in the building.


Writing an outline can help you design your composition, and carefully assembling words and sentences into paragraphs can help you compose any professional or technical document for today’s twenty-first century writing demands.