Kick-start your writing by considering the P-A-S-T

This post was previously published earlier this year, but I’m sharing it again now. Students in my COM106 – Writing for the Communication Professions summer session class at Rider University will be commenting on this post this week…

Purpose. Audience. Style. Tone. (Easy to remember as “P-A-S-T,” an acronym I share with my students…) Whatever you’re writing, by considering these elements, you’ll be able to organize your thoughts and kick-start your writing efforts.

Purpose – Ask yourself, “What are my objectives for writing this piece?” Your answer will help you outline a path to reach your goals and determine your purpose.

Audience – If I could have figured out an acronym that started with an “A,” I definitely would put “A” for “audience” first. In my opinion, knowing your audience — the people you want to reach or connect with through your writing — makes the whole writing process much easier. Pretend you’re talking to this person or these people. In your writing, “talk” directly to your audience, using words like “you” and “your” and other conversational words and phrases, which brings us to the “S” in “PAST”..

Style — To be effective, the style and structure of your writing piece needs to meet your audience’s expectations — or it needs to cleverly attract their attention. At times, a conversational style is appropriate, but sometimes it’s not.

  • If you’re writing a news release to send to journalists and editors, they’ll expect you to structure your news in an “inverted pyramid style,” where the most important news and information appears in your lead paragraphs, followed by the less important information. Also, news releases should be written in the objective third-person (without “you” or “your”…).
  • If you’re writing a page for your website, it’s good to be conversational, but you’ll also want to use a “chunk” style with quick headings and sub-heads and bullet-point information.
  • Sometimes an “unexpected” and creative style or structure will get more attention for your writing. On BusinessWeek.com, the authors of Social Media Will Change Your Business structured the article as a series of blog entries, which the authors were writing about in addition to other social media.

Tone — Determine how formal or informal your writing needs to be, depending on the audience and purpose. This is the “tone” you should use in your writing. If appropriate, don’t be afraid to use a casual, conversational tone, one that “talks” directly to your audience. Also, it’s okay to use technical words and acronyms if you’re sure your audience will understand — but only if your audience will understand what you’re saying!

Consider the “P-A-S-T” and move forward with your ideas and writing efforts. If you have any ideas or considerations that help you kick-start your writing, please share them with us by responding below. Thanks for reading this post. Until next time, take care!

Kathy Magrino ;-)

Comments

  1. Zach Kemp says:

    I found this blog pretty informative. I explained in class that my method of writing usually ends up conversational. She explained in her blog that, “At times, a conversational style is appropriate, but sometimes it’s not.” I feel that with my background, “being Web design” that this will be of use and I look forward to more information she has to offer.

    • Kathy Magrino says:

      Thanks, Zach! I’ll be sharing a lot of information with you throughout the summer session and I hope you’ll be able to apply it to your web design needs. See you on Wednesday!
      KM

  2. Lynn Whitley says:

    I think the most important thing to consider when blogging, or writing to/for anyone for that matter, is to consider your audience. In my speech class we really concentrated on focusing on our audience. We made sure that we considered the event that we would be delivering the speech (i.e. funeral, wedding, meeting, informal or formal presentation.) It is important to make your tone of voice appropriate to the event/topic and audience. We also have to consider the age group of the audience that we are speaking/writing to- not only to make sure they can understand our language but to make sure we keep the topic and writing interesting and appropriate for them. For example, if you are writing for a group of teenagers, they will find different things humorous than say, a group of senior citizens. In conclusion, the audience and purpose really goes together when it comes to writing. When you know and consider all of these things ahead of time, I think the writing comes a lot easier to you and your writing piece turns out a lot better when you know exactly your audience- your purpose and tone of voice becomes a lot more clear.

    • Kathy Magrino says:

      Thanks for sharing the information you learned in your speech class, Lynn. And it’s great to see you in my class again!
      KM

  3. Megan Rosko says:

    I really enjoy this article a lot. The idea of PAST I find really useful when thinking about writing. It is extremely important to make sure you get your message/objective across to the reader. No one wants to read an article with no point. I believe the P is the most important thing to consider when writing an article. I also agree that the A for audience is important to remember. You have to know what audience you are trying to get through to. You may want to use certain words only the audience you are trying to get through to might use. The style is vital as well. I agree with the inverted pyramid method that the most important information is the information you want to provide first. The tone whether formal or informal can make a big deal on a blog. It can help define the audience as well as set the tone you are writing in whether a serious or funny matter. This article was well done and I plan on using PAST during my writing.

    • Kathy Magrino says:

      I’m glad you like the “P-A-S-T” acronym, Megan, and hope you find it useful as you write for this class and for your other projects. Thanks!
      KM

  4. Amber B. Carter says:

    I love the acronym because I’m the type of person that loves words. If I find something catchy, insightful or unique, I am more likely to remember it in addition to sharing it with others. Oftentimes, professors over complicate things to the point where the basics aren’t so basic anymore. This blog is simple yet effective..

    • Kathy Magrino says:

      Thanks, Amber. I’m a word-lover, too! Let’s continue to keep things simple, short and sweet as we move ahead with our writing projects…
      ;-) KM

  5. Chris Kershaw says:

    I thought this was a very informative piece. It gave out a lot of useful information, but at the same time made it easy to understand and wasn’t to technical. For people having trouble getting started with their writing or putting ideas down on paper, this seems like the perfect read for them. This blog also tells you how to approach how to write certain pieces such as writing to editors or how to make an effective website. Overall, this blog is a good way to learn a lot of basic information without having to worry about not understanding what the writer is trying to say.

    • Kathy Magrino says:

      Thanks, Chris! We like to keep things simple here on my blog… Glad you find the information useful! See you on Wednesday.
      KM

  6. Hennessy says:

    Audience
    – Knowing your audience is very important. I gave a political speech here at Rider University my sophmore year for Governor Huckabee. There were democrats, republicans, and liberals all in the audience. I had to form this introductory speech for him in a sense that capture the whole audience and not make them want to listen to me or disagree with my opinions of him. In my speech i was talking about the reasons people should vote for him cause he was having so much fun doing it and didnt have all the funds like the other politicians do. Knowing your audience is key for everything.

    • Kathy Magrino says:

      I agree that “knowing your audience is key for everything.” Sounds like you had a good experience writing your political speech! Hopefully, you’ll pick up a few more pointers over the next six weeks!
      KM

  7. Michelle Gilliland says:

    I think that the most difficult thing is actually figuring out what the purpose of your writing is and sticking to it. It is very easy to veer off topic. Most people write just to complete an assignment without the full sense of what they are suppose to be writing about. I may be inappropriately speaking for everyone on this issue, but I know I personally have a problem with this. I often get marked off on papers for “irrelevant information” or just things that I may place in a paper to fill space.
    Also with audience, I was always told to talk to your audience as if they have no idea about anything you are saying and you have to teach them everything. This also has some relevance to tone because if you are giving a speech to 5 year olds on why they shouldn’t eat crayons, you are not going to mention all the big words that you might mention if you were giving a speech to a scientist on the harmful chemicals found in crayons.

    • Kathy Magrino says:

      I love your “crayon speech” analogy, Michelle! Also, I think you’ll find it easier to approach your writing projects if you OUTLINE your work prior to diving in and writing. We’ll be talking more about outlining when we learn about writing feature articles next week. Thanks!
      KM

  8. Krista Slowikowski says:

    PAST is one of the best ways to remember how to write. In Fall 2008, I took Public Relations course with Professor Magrino and this is also one of the first things that the class was taught. Throughout that Public Relations course, as well as other courses I have taken up until now, I have used PAST.
    PAST is the simplest and knowledgeable way to writing any kind of paper. Once it is taught, one uses it without even knowing it.
    In this acronym, AST are explained fully, however P should be more in depth. Emphasis on writing an outline is, I believe one of the key items in writing. Without an outline, one cannot write a paper.

    • Kathy Magrino says:

      Excellent point, Krista! See my response to Michelle (above) — you’re right about the importance of outlining… Thanks!
      KM

  9. I think this idea of P-A-S-T is a very good one. In the following idea the P is for purpose. You need a purpose for your writing so you know what to write about. The A is for audience you need to know what audience you are speaking to. What words to use and what words not to use. The S is for style and depending on what you are writing about you need a specific style. The T is for tone, depending on the audience you need to know if the tone is formal or informal. I think this acronym is helpful to anyone who is writing. It gives structure to your writing and help you a lot in the long run anytime you are writing something. Because I like this idea so much I am going to print it and keep it for any assignment that involves writing.

    • Kathy Magrino says:

      I’m glad you find the acronym useful, Alex! Overall, I think the ideas I’ve presented in my post hammer home the message that we need to be organized in how we approach our writing projects. Thanks for your comments!
      KM

  10. Jillian Belgrave says:

    Kick-start your writing by considering the P-A-S-T was a very informative blog. I found that the acronym was very clever. All the information provided is very useful and I can see myself using it. I agree that the “A” for Audience is a crucial element for writing. I believe that the “P” for Purpose is the second crucial element because one would need to know who they are writing for. Overall this blog was very useful and had a simple layout which made it easy/enjoyable to read.

    • Kathy Magrino says:

      Thanks for your comments, Jillian, and I’m glad you like the layout of my blog. We’ll be learning more about blogging and web design as we move forward through this course… See you on Wednesday!
      KM

  11. P-A-S-T is a fundamental sound structure to clearly communicate through the writing process. So many people write confusing messages in their compositions due to a lacking in distinctly defining what P-A-S-T represents in their composition. With a clear goal insight, it is much easier to navigate to. Instead of moving while trying to find directions and getting lost to back track to waste more valuable time, spending a little time to plan using P-A-S-T as a guideline, you’ll be efficient and efficiency is the key in all things.–CA

    • Kathy Magrino says:

      I agree with you when you say, “With a clear goal in sight, it is much easier to navigate” the writing process. It’s always good to focus on our goals in any type of project, and this applies to writing, too. Thanks for your comments!
      KM

  12. Hey,
    The acronym P-A-S-T in my opinion i think is a very good idea. Some friends and I have been thinking about coming up with an acronym or some kind of way to make a sells pitch for our at home business and i am gonna show them this website as an idea for an ad.

    • Kathy Magrino says:

      Tell me more about your home business the next time we meet in class… Thanks for your comments!
      KM

  13. Mike Crossley says:

    There are many strategical points made in this blog that I have to agree with. First off, I believe that every writer is entitled to how they choose to write. By that I mean a writer should be able to feel comfortable with what methods they choose to use as long as the best and most efficient writing comes from it.
    With that said, there are still some rules and pointers that are very helpful and need to be used in order to be effective and the P-A-S-T shows that. Specifically, I agree greatly with the “A”–Audience. If you want to keep the reader’s attention and ultimately have a large amount of people reading whatever you write your audience is key.
    I believe the “T” is extremely important too. A writer should always understand the setting. If your writing a letter to your town Mayor about something you want to see changed it should be professionally written. If your just simply writing to your friend who you’ve known for a long time you can get away with using a certain easy-going tone of language. In a sense, the tone can be related to the “A”–audience because knowing who you are writing to is important.
    Everyone should realize that it is important not to become one-minded with methods to use and using the P-A-S-T system are rules that everyone can and should effectively use. At least I know I will.

    • Kathy Magrino says:

      I’m glad you find the PAST acronym to be useful, Mike. Thanks for your comments! See you in class on Wednesday.
      KM

  14. Dear Kathy’s students,

    Hello. Be nice to her in class. That is all.

    Alex

    • Kathy Magrino says:

      Thanks, Alex! ;-) (Alex and I are launching a new online business in the very near future… We’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, you can follow Alex on Twitter: @AlexBlom. And you can follow me, too: @kathymagrino.)
      KM

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