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Know the Main Idea of Your Piece Before You Write

The writing process is easier when you find the main idea – the single most important thing (SMIT) to tell your readers – before you write.

SMIT: the Single Most Important Thing you need to tell your reader with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter

If you do, you’ll save yourself time and aggravation. And your writing will have clarity.

When I first started writing seriously, I struggled with this piece of advice. My problem was that in many instances, I didn’t know the main idea I wanted to communicate in an article or blog post or letter. I had captured so many ideas but didn’t know how to process them to choose one. 

Since then, I’ve come across a tool that has helped accelerate the process quite a bit. I wished I’d known about it when I first started writing.

SMIT: An Acronym to Help You Find the Main Idea

SMIT is a simple acronym credited to Australian fundraising consultant Jonathon Grapsas, who routinely asks himself and his clients to identify the Single Most Important Thing he needs to tell his reader.

You can use SMIT as part of the writing process for any writing project. As you prepare to write, simply ask yourself, “What is the Single Most Important Thing I need to tell my reader in this piece?” Then write down that idea.

Write. It. Down. 

When you articulate your project’s SMIT, you can stay on target. For example, as I wrote this piece I had all kinds of thoughts about processing ideas. I was tempted to jump in to explain them all. But SMIT kept needling the back of my brain. I asked myself, “what is the Single Most Important Thing I want to tell my readers about processing ideas?”

I ended up with this: “Use SMIT, a simple tool, to process ideas and get to the main point.”

How to Find the SMIT

“Processing ideas” is another way of saying that you sort through ideas and determine which ones to discard, which ones to hold to pursue at another time, and which ones to process right away so you can find the single most important one.

I like to compare the sorting process to a traffic light. 

A typical traffic light has a red light (“Stop”), yellow light (“Caution” or “Wait”), and a green light (“Go”). 

For sorting ideas, the process goes like this: study each of the ideas you have for a piece. What’s the traffic signal for each one? 

  • A “red light” idea means “No,” at least for now.
  • A “yellow light” idea means “Wait. Proceed with caution.” 
  • A “green light” idea means “Yes!” 

Now that you have a green light idea – or more than one – work it over. There’s a good chance you’ll need to tweak and massage it or perhaps rewrite it altogether, but in the end you’ll have clarity.

The SMIT principle applies to processing ideas for any project: to writing a book, an article, a blog post, a devotional, an appeal letter …

Is SMIT Really a Word?

Yep. “Smit” is past tense for “smite,” a verb that means to defeat, conquer, strike, or hit. 

Likewise, finding the Single Most Important Thing to tell your reader means you’re able to hit your point clearly. You’ve begun to conquer vague messaging.

Sort your ideas with the traffic light. Work over your green light ideas. Then write down your SMIT. 

It’s a time-saving tool that makes you a better writer. The more you do the SMIT, the faster and easier it will be.

And your readers will thank you because you get to the point.

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