Melanie Spiller & Coloratura Consulting
A Tonic for Ramshackle Wordsmiths
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Copyright Melanie Spiller 2011. Do not copy without permission.
Outlining

If youíve worked with me, you know that I place a lot of emphasis on making an outline before you start to write. If youíre writing a book, itís essential to know where youíre going before you begin or you may not reach the goal destination (or you might reach the same destination repeatedly). When youíre writing an article, itís a little harder to see why itís necessary.

 

Some peopleóand they are rare birdsócan write logically by starting at the beginning and working their way through to the end. But most often, there is a tangent here and there, and the focus changes. The poor reader is made a promise that isnít kept, or at least they have a wobbly time getting there. Outlining, even if itís only a very cursory outline, can prevent this tragedy.

 

Once youíve identified the topic, the audience, and the organizing principle, itís easy to write out a few headings. Like this:

 

Tooth Brushing

                       History

                       Cultural Variations

                       Step List

                       Benefits

 

I can play with that, changing the order around and perhaps eliminating bits that arenít relevant to my audience or my purpose, without writing any text. Then, when I sit to write the text, my path is clear, and Iíve done all the stumbling around in the dark already and wonít have to revise much.

 

If youíre writing on a complex topic, you can easily outline in greater depth. Most likely, no one but you will see it, so it doesnít matter whether you use a phrase or a sentence, as long as you know what you mean later when you sit down to write.

 

            Purple People Plotter Assembly

                       Unboxing

                                   Part Organization

                                   Box Disposal

                       Manufacturerís Instructions

                                   Definitions

Essential Reading

                                   Useful Images

                       Necessary Tools

                       Assembly Step List

                                   Troubleshooting

                                   Safety Issues

                       Power Up

                       First Usage Hints

 

I find that I nearly always have to reorganize my initial brainstorming efforts. For instance, Iíll bet that I want another section of troubleshooting in the First Usage or Power Up sections. Or maybe First Usage belongs within Power Up or the other way around. Perhaps I want to recommend reading the instructions before taking anything out of the box. Itís useful to have this laundry list to play with, rather than trying to revise text to accommodate a change.

 

Once you begin writing, you may find that you need to move some topics around, or that youíve already covered something incidentally in another section. Thatís okay. The outline is just a guide to help you see the whole picture before you begin so that you can have a clear path. Your readers will be grateful.

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