Planning a history #2: Writing

This is the second of three articles about preparing a history of your organisation. This post focusses on planning and writing using a simple pyramid planning structure.

Planning and writing

Having a good foundation and structure for your book from the start is invaluable and worth spending time developing with your editorial committee.

I have developed a pyramid concept because it allows you to clearly visualise the tasks required to deliver your book successfully:


PublishingPyramid 2017


An explanation of the levels

  1. CONCEPT: At the top of your pyramid is the single-sentence idea that describes the direction the book.
  2. OVERVIEW: The next level down is fleshing that concept out into a description of your work – think of it as the basis for the ‘blurb’ of the back cover of the book when it’s published. With an organisational history, this is essentially a mission statement covering what the book will offer readers and what you hope it will achieve strategically.
  3. SECTIONS: Using your overview, identify a few overarching sections that will describe the content adequately. In a history the order is often chronological or thematic – but sections may contain overarching themes within the chronology. You may retain these sections or they may simply be the scaffolding upon which you structure your thoughts, then dispense with them for the final work.
  4. CHAPTERS: Identify the chapters you envisage will be needed to tell the story. Structure these logically so your readers will be able to navigate the book and understand your story.
  5. DETAIL: The base layer is fleshing out the detail for each chapter in around half a page of bullet points – if you can do more, do so, but don’t get bogged down in too much detail at this stage.

If the editorial committee is in agreement about this plan, and you have articulated your concept well, then the top three levels should remain quite fixed. The lower levels, where research will inform the final content, will most likely change over time. As this is a working document you must remain flexible.


Storage systems for materials

Planning how you will store the editorial notes, writing, and photograph files is something that should be done in advance of you actually starting your research. Poor storage structures are a sure way to lose important material.

What you need is an organised set of folders in, for example, Dropbox, or any other online sharing platform, which you know is backed-up and in which all the information for the project is placed and recorded, along with an excel spreadsheet to keep track of what you have gathered.


The folder system

Your folders system should ideally reflect your overall book structure. Everything in it must be labelled consistently and accurately, and ideally, it should be maintained by committee heads, rather than having too many people dipping in and out to add or delete materials.

I have found that the following folder system works well:

Folder Format

You may add as many sub-topic folders under each chapter as you need. The reason for having the ‘Outdated’ folders is that while you are producing the book, it's a good idea not to delete anything because you never know what you may need later.


The excel spreadsheet

Create an excel spreadsheet with the following columns. In this you can keep track of the research progress with one row per chapter:

Column A.   Chapter number

Column B.    Chapter title

Column C.    Author name or liaison

Column D.    Current word count

Column E.     Editorial progress (estimate % complete)

Column F.     Completed (‘yes’ when complete)

Column G.    Images: number required

Column H.    Image progress (no. of images acquired)

Column I.      Completed (‘yes’ when complete)



Ideally your history should be readable and engaging, not dry and dense.

One simple way to achieve this is to look at the broad scope of your history and then identify a collection of vignettes, breakout stories or snapshots and illustrate these as much as possible with photographs. A balanced combination of images and writing will help give an inherent lightness to the work.