Organizing nonfiction writing around learning objectives

As nonfiction writers, we strive to educate our readers. Our goal is to communicate interesting ideas clearly and concisely. Sometimes the early stages of nonfiction writing are overwhelming. Sifting through all of our research, and trying to convey our ideas in a meaningful way can be challenging. One strategy to help organize your writing in the early stages is to create a set of learning objectives. Try to limit these to 3-4 per chapter or article. For smaller pieces, such as blog posts, 1-2 learning objectives is sufficient. Objectives should capture the main points that you intend for the reader to learn from your writing. It’s most useful to create these before you develop an outline or first draft. These objectives will provide you with a structural framework, around which you can build your entire work of nonfiction. 

One common system used for developing educational learning objectives is Bloom’s taxonomy (1). Using this system, you can create goals based on whether you want to increase a reader’s knowledge or comprehension of an area or their abilities to apply, analyze, evaluate, or synthesize something new based on what they learn from you. Helpful sites that explain in greater detail how Bloom’s is used for curriculum development are found here and here.

Knowledge-based objectives are the most straightforward to create. These focus on what you want your reader to remember. Think of objectives that use verbs, such as recognize, list, or recall. Let’s look at an example. If you are writing an article about breast cancer therapy for medical students, one of your objectives may be for your readers to be able to list the names of drugs used to treat specific types of breast cancer. Having this first learning objective in mind will help you know what kind of research to do, and what content to include as you build your outline and first draft. If your objective is to improve a reader’s comprehension or understanding of a topic, structure your writing around objectives that help the reader explain, compare, or summarize. Using the same example of an article about cancer therapy, you may include an objective for a reader to be able to explain how chemotherapy affects cancer cells. Deeper learning goals equip a reader with the abilities to critique or design specific endpoints. Sticking with the example of a breast cancer therapy article, your deeper objectives may be for readers to be able to apply facts about cancer therapy to predict how normal cells will be affected, or to be able to design an individualized treatment plan for a patient. Having these goals in mind before doing your research will ensure that you include enough information for readers to make evidence-based predictions and conclusions.

Once you have a set of objectives for your article or chapter, you can further develop each to build a detailed outline. The best part of creating learning objectives is the clarity you will gain regarding the goals and purpose of your article. Clarifying exactly what you want to communicate to your readers is a critical early step for keeping your writing focused and organized. Ultimately, taking the time upfront to develop clear goals will help your writing flow and enrich your reader’s learning experience.

(1) Bloom, B. S. (1956). “Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I: The Cognitive Domain.” New York: David McKay Co Inc.