Copyright 2020 Melanie Spiller. All rights reserved.
MelanieSpiller and Coloratura Consulting
If you’ve worked with me, you know that I place a lot of emphasis on making an outline before you start to write. If you’re writing a book, it’s essential to know where you’re going before you begin or you may not reach the goal destination (or you might reach the same destination repeatedly). When you’re writing an article, it’s a little harder to see why it’s necessary.Some people—and they are rare birds—can 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 isn’t kept, or at least they have a wobbly time getting there. Outlining, even if it’s only a very cursory outline, can prevent this tragedy.Once you’ve identified the topic, the audience, and the organizing principle, it’s easy to write out a few headings. Like this:Tooth BrushingHistoryCultural VariationsStep ListBenefitsI can play with that beginning, changing the order around and perhaps eliminating bits that aren’t relevant to my audience or my purpose, without writing any text. Then, when I sit to write the text, my path is clear, and I’ve done all the stumbling around in the dark already and won’t have to revise much.If you’re writing on a complex topic, you can easily outline in greater depth. Most likely, no one but you will see it, so it doesn’t 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 AssemblyUnboxingPart OrganizationBox DisposalManufacturer’s InstructionsDefinitionsEssential ReadingUseful ImagesNecessary ToolsAssembly Step ListTroubleshootingSafety IssuesPower UpFirst Usage HintsI find that I nearly always have to reorganize my initial brainstorming efforts. For instance, I’ll 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. It’s 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 you’ve already covered something incidentally in another section. That’s 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.