A simple outline is your map through the cluttered forest of your mind. Let’s face it, we’re all bombarded with calls, emails, meetings, interruptions and distractions of all sorts, from every direction, every day.
All an outline does is help you stay on track. Like a map, it shows you exactly where you want to go, how to get there, and even alerts you when you stray off-course. Result: You get there quicker, more easily.
Like a pilot’s preflight checklist, an outline also ensures that you don’t forget anything — at least, nothing important.
OK, you can stop groaning. Forget what your English teacher taught you. A simple outline is, well, simple. A lot simpler than drawing a map, anyway. A few minutes jotting down a quick outline will literally save you HOURS of writing and re-writing. Take it from me. I’ve done it both ways, and following an outline is a lot less painful.
It takes just a few simple steps to create an outline:
- Jot down all the important points you want to make, in any order. It doesn’t have to be fancy. These are just your notes. For your eyes only
- Eliminate the excess. Cut the crap, in other words. Include only the points relevant to your targeted audience (see Writing Secret #1) that will help you achieve your objective(s). Delete everything else, or save it for another document.
- Need supporting data to convince, persuade or bolster your argument? Don’t look it up yet. Just make a note of what you need and add that note to your outline. Draw arrows where each bit fits best. Result: Now you know what research, if any, you might need to perform before you can start writing.
- Finally, go back and arrange your data in order of importance, or chronological order, or whatever makes your point most clearly and powerfully.
A complete outline might look something like this:
- Introduction: Include your core message, who it’s for, what you want them to do. (See Writing the Inverted Pyramid.)
- Point #1
- a. (Supporting data, examples, etc.)
- Point #2
- Point #3
- c., etc.
Now that wasn’t so bad, was it? With just a rough outline, you’re ready to start doing any research you might need. Then later, you can start writing.