Create an outline before you write

An excerpt on Creating Outlines from Harness the Business Writing Process:

Clustering is the first step in getting organized, before you write. The next step is to create an outline, part of the writing process. Producing an outline before you write will help you write in a more effective and efficient manner. In addition, if you are wondering why you have to go through all of this to write a simple email message, please stick with me. I am showing you the full, formal writing process now. I will show you a writing process shortcut that you can apply to most email messages (in the next blog post).

To create an outline after clustering, you have to move from right-brain (creative) thinking to left-brain (linear) thinking.

After clustering, take a highlighter to your spider’s web of words and highlight any words and phrases that you want to write about in your document. Remember, at this point, you have already thought about your topic, audience and purpose, so you should have a good sense of who you are writing for and why you are writing. Therefore, you can highlight words and phrases that relate to your subject matter, audience and purpose.

Once you have highlighted appropriate words and phrases, you place them in a list to create a rough outline of your document. You review and revise it—put the topics in the order you think you should write about them. Again, this is based on your purpose, audience and scope (the degree of detail expected by your audience or required to achieve your purpose). Also, you consider the deliverable (email, letter, report, Power-Point presentation and so on) that you are producing.

Review your ordered list and do some in-filling by adding any other topic points or subtopic points, you feel may be missing. Remove any points that are not relevant and you are almost there.

Why create an outline?
Does this feel like work? Most people think it does and there is a valid reason for the feeling. It is work. But what’s the alternative? You can, of course, try to fill the blank page with sentences that will make sense to your audience and help you achieve your purpose. However, guess what happens when you try to do that? Your brain tries to write well—to write coherent, well-constructed sentences and paragraphs produced in a logical order—and to spell correctly and follow the rules of grammar. As it is trying to do all of that, it tries to keep track of what you have written, what you are writing and what you still need to write.

Now your brain is a remarkable organ; it can do all of that, more or less. What I am suggesting you do here is relieve your brain of some of this workload by creating an outline—a formal list of all the points you need to cover placed in the order you feel you should write about them. An outline brings focus and logical order to your document. It liberates your brain and lets you concentrate on writing from point to point in a clear, concise manner. Your brain won’t have to remember what you have written while thinking about what you are writing and what you still have to write. If you follow the writing process, which lists editing as the final component, you also free your brain from thinking about grammar and spelling on the first draft.

With all this liberated brainpower available, you can focus on making your writing as effective as possible. Isn’t that your primary goal—to write as effectively as possible? Do it, from outline point to outline point.

This has been an excerpt on Creating Outlines from Harness the Business Writing Process

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One thought on “Create an outline before you write

  1. Pingback: Clustering or brainstorming your way to writing success | Everything You Wanted to Know about Freelance Writing

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