Monday, September 3, 2012

Guest post: Write Right First Time with Brown's Eight Questions

This is a guest post by Stephen G. Matthews. Stephen is a PhD student in the Centre for Computational Intelligence at De Montfort University, UK.

Write Right First Time with Brown's Eight Questions

I will share a method that I have found to be really useful. It's short, simple and incredibly effective: Brown's Eight Questions.

Robert Brown introduced Brown's Eight Questions (Brown, 1994/95) as part of an action learning set for improving writing. An action learning set is a group of people (ideally 5) who meet up to discuss common problems and solutions. Brown suggests applying this to writing for publication. An action learning set meets up and each member reviews each other's manuscripts face to face. I will focus on Brown's Eight Questions, but an action learning set for writing is well worth reading about in Brown's article.

So what is Brown's Eight Questions? Well, it is a set of eight questions designed to make an author think about writing before actually writing a first draft. Brown's idea, which was motivated by his experiences as a writer, reviewer and editor, comes from his observation that writers often focus on correcting a manuscript once it is written, rather than planning the manuscript before writing.

Brown’s Eight Questions

  1. Who are the intended readers? - list 3 to 5 of them by name;
  2. What did you do? (limit - 50 words)
  3. Why did you do it? (limit - 50 words)
  4. What happened? (limit - 50 words)
  5. What do the results mean in theory? (limit - 50 words)
  6. What do the results mean in practice? (limit - 50 words)
  7. What is the key benefit for your readers? (limit - 25 words)
  8. What remains unresolved? (no word limit)
As you can see these are simple questions and the word limit ensures answers are succinct. Brown's Eight Questions can help authors to gain clarity about their manuscript and also support the reader's understanding.

Brown's Eight Questions helps me to structure my thoughts, arguments and the message of a manuscript. It really is a useful method that can be applied to any form of writing such as journal articles, theses and reports. If you have not used it then give it a go!

Brown, Robert (1994/95) “Write Right First Time”, Literati Newsline Special Issue: 1-8. (Available from