Preview module—Choosing an issue the first (and often most important) step of the writing process

A sneak peek into our online briefing note course

This free module is an excerpt of Briefing Note Fundamentals. It will give you a feel for our online teaching style, and the content doesn’t just apply to briefing notes, so you’ll also learn a new skill.

Briefing Note Fundamentals gives writers the tools they need to draft strong, clear briefing notes for decision makers. If you do any kind of writing for decision makers, this content will be relevant to you. We address all the common problems and give concrete solutions to them. See the full course page here or watch the introductory video here.

Choosing the right issue is a challenge for most documents

The issue is a document's focus or the problem that needs solving. The issue you choose determines the direction of your document. So getting clear about it is the first and most important step of your process.

If the issue is imprecise, all the content of your document veers off track. This can come from writers going without clear guidance, or because they know so much about a topic it’s difficult to sift through it all to get to the heart of the issue.

What you'll get from the preview module

This module teaches you how to choose the right issue and sort through distractions. It uses a combination of video, exercises, a quiz, and comments to teach you to:

  • assess the clarity of the issue, purpose, or problem
  • choose the correct issue out of the many possibilities in our fact scenario (this simulates the experience of writing a real briefing note)
  • confirm and analyze your choice and compare it to our thinking (a quiz and follow-up video explains our rationale)
  • test to confirm you have the right issue and avoid distractions
  • apply our test to your own document

This preview is representative of our online approach

We built this course the same way we recommend writing a briefing note—with focused, useful content and nothing extra that wastes your time. It is designed to work for all the different learning styles of our users. There are opportunities to immediately apply concepts to real documents, get feedback, and learn from other students to increase engagement.

Stay tuned for Plain Language Fundamentals

Our core plain language content will be available online in the next six months. If you'd like us to tell you when it's ready, sign up for our newsletter.

We will offer options to customize this Plain Language Fundamentals course using your organizations's documents, so it's fully applicable to the writing you do.

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Your Instructors

Chari Smith
Chari Smith

Wordsmith has been training writers for over 40 years. We emphasize practical tools for writers, delivered in a purposeful and engaging way. You can find our bios at

Course Curriculum

  Preview module
Available in days
days after you enroll

Frequently Asked Questions

When does the course start and finish?
This preview module starts when you sign up. You will then have two weeks' free access. If you'd like more time, just email us at [email protected].
Can I ask questions?
Please ask us questions! If it is about the course content, we encourage you to leave a comment, so all participants can see our answers. If it's about Wordsmith and the work we do, or something related, please email us at [email protected]
How long will this preview module take me to complete?
This module includes roughly 15 minutes of video. It also uses a fact scenario exercise and quiz to have you apply the principles and confirm whether you chose the same issue we did. All in all, it will definitely take you less than an hour to fully complete (or just a few minutes to peruse, if you prefer).

Get started now!