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Outlining

As a content writer, you want to write quickly. After all, the faster you write the happier your clients will be with your turnaround time, and the more money you’ll make. Since speed is one of your goals, you might think that you don’t have time for outlining. But you do.

Save Time

Obviously, outlining takes time. But if it stops your writer’s block and limits the editing that you need to do, then outlining actually saves time. Let’s look at some outlining techniques and time-saving strategies.

Work Out a Title

Before you can write, you need to know what you’re writing about. That advice sounds obvious, but I mean really know. Let’s say your client has given you a topic, but no title. You need to narrow that topic down to a working title. Corey Eridon explains the difference between a topic and a working title: “[A] topic is something general, while a working title is specific”.

Topic: SEO 2014 trends

Title: The 5 Hottest SEO Trends of 2014

Topic: Homemade artisan bread

Title: How to Make Artisan Sourdough Bread Overnight

Your working title doesn’t have to be your final wording; it’s just a guide for what you want to communicate in your writing.

Brainstorm

Now, you want to brainstorm ideas relating to your title. Remember, in brainstorming, all ideas are good ideas. Write down as many ideas as possible, but once you can’t think of any more, move on to the next step. If you can’t think of a title, you can brainstorm that too.

Organize

Now that you’ve got ideas, it’s time to arrange them. Ask yourself: What are the most important ideas here? Are there any overarching themes? What’s the best flow? Organize your ideas together in logical groups and discard unimportant or irrelevant ideas.

Title: How to Use Commas Like a Pro

Brainstorm: lists, no comma splices, conjunctions, with quotation marks, with adjectives, Oxford comma, difference between commas and semicolons

Organized:

  • Lists
    • Oxford Comma
  • Conjunctions
    • No comma splices
  • With Quotation Marks
  • With Adjectives

See how I’ve grouped together related ideas, arranged my ideas in a logical order (simple to more complex uses), and eliminated less relevant ideas (difference between commas and semicolons)? For this outline, I used bullet points, but you can also use a simple list, a mind map, a traditional outline, or something else that works for you.

Tweak Your Outline

How does your outline look? If you spent a lot of time brainstorming, it might be full of ideas (maybe even too many). If you had trouble brainstorming, you might think of some ideas that you need to add now.

Also check that each of your main points has a similar number of supporting points. If you’ve got six supporting ideas there, but none here, try combining some ideas or breaking the big group into a couple smaller ones.

Tweak your outline until you think you’ve got all the information you need to write easily and without interruptions.

Just Write

Congratulations! You’ve already done the most difficult work. After outlining, writing will be easy-peasy. Now, I can’t promise that you’ll never get stuck while writing.

But if you do, ask yourself what information you should have had in your outline to help you, and include that information next time. You also don’t have to follow the suggestions in this lesson.

As long as you find a planning method that helps you write efficiently, you’re good to go.

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