Editor’s Note: Creating content that informs and engages your target audience is a main ingredient to any successful online marketing strategy. It allows you to develop relationships, demonstrate your expertise, and extend the reach of your business online. One of the best ways to create great content (and save yourselves tons of time and energy in the process) is to put together an outline before you sit down to write. Check out the latest from Sean D’Souza to learn more…
Most writers write.
They sit down and they write.
And some smart ones outline.
The outline gives us clues about bloating
Your article can go well past its original intent and into puffy-land without a well- thought outline. And it’s not even about the actual words used in the outline. The bloat is visually apparent. Look at your article outline and see how many lines you have in them.
If you’ve got a ton of lines, then you’re almost always headed towards a bloated article.
Let’s take a look at an example or two:
Example outline 1: cooking – keeping the kitchen clean
“First 50 Words”
Why keep your kitchen clean?
How to avoid accumulating dirty dishes
How to clean your kitchen
What to avoid when cleaning your kitchen
How to find the right tools to clean your kitchen
Where to store dirty dishes
When to start cleaning
What to do if your kitchen drowns in dirty dishes
Cleaning the kitchen takes too much time
Not cleaning your dishes immediately
Sandwich / Next Step
Example outline 2: on pelicans
What are pelicans?
Where do pelicans live?
Why do they live there?
How long do pelicans live?
What do they eat?
How do they eat with that long beak?
Do they sleep?
How do they sleep?
Why do they have a long beak?
Do they know they have a long beak?
Can pelicans fly?
How can I get a pelican as a pet?
Can you pet them?
Do they bite?
Do they like people?
What other animals are their friends?
How do they talk to each other?
A lot of information to cover
As you can see from the outlines above, there is a lot of information to cover. And invariably a line in your outline will lead to a paragraph or two, maybe even three, in your article. So if you have 15-20 lines in your outline, that’s about 30-45 paragraphs that you have to grapple with.
Now you’re panicking
And the way we panic is to cut back dramatically. So instead of 20 lines in our outline, we try to write three or four. That’s too few lines to have in an outline. So what’s the correct number of lines to have in an outline?
As you’d expect, there is no strict formula
But what you’re trying to get in your outline is the critical — the whats, whys, hows and maybe the when and where (if needed). You’re also getting the objections in. The summary may be important. And then you’re moving the reader on to the next step.
So if you randomly threw a topic at me like “leadership”…
I’d come up with a reasonably interesting outline based on a few critical elements.
Topic or sub-topic: leadership
“First 50 Words”
What is leadership?
Why is leadership important?
Does your organization have the right leadership qualities?
Why can’t we just have a democratic set up instead of leaders and followers?
What are the three common mistakes of leadership?
Let’s try another very open-ended topic
Topic or sub-topic: career development
“First 50 Words”
What is career development?
What is the importance of career development?
When should one start? And how long should you go?
Who pays for career development? You or your boss?
Case studies of how career development helped
Career development courses and where to find them
What you quickly realize is that you’re thinking too much, which leads to bloat.
Outlines don’t require an enormous amount of thought. Whether it’s pelicans you’re writing about or geo-spatial awareness, the outline is pretty much the same. I still need to know the core answers. And yes, once you’ve covered the how, what, why, when, where, I still need something in the middle of the article to spike interest. That’s where the objections come in. And yes, you can do it in five minutes or less.
But surely you have to think things through
No you don’t. You’ll find that for the most part, the thinking is slowing you down and not really creating any greater value to the article’s contents. When you’re writing the article, you will find that a question like, “Why do pelicans feast on…” will bring up a ton of detail anyway. Trying to think of the details at the outline stage is often a waste of time.
That’s not to say you can’t add minor ideas into your outline. Sometimes you think of something that you may not remember later. It may not be part of the “formula” outline, and you want to make sure you get it in. Well do it. And even if you get past the outline stage, and find something missing when writing the article, you can always add it. But spare yourself the agony of thinking out every outline in the greatest details.
Look at your outline — really look!
If it’s bloating and the outline expands and keeps expanding, that’s a sign of sure puffiness. It’s time to cut back and keep it to the core elements.
The outline is after all…just an outline.