Writing articles can be challenging, especially if you're an in-house copywriter. With all of your prior knowledge of the company, its products, services, and mission, it can be easy to try to cram too much information into one tiny page of content. Sure, you want everyone to know how awesome your stuff is, but it can get mighty confusing if you try to tell someone everything at once.
So how can you keep things on track? Simple. Make an outline.
Why Outlines Work So Good
When you were in grade school, you were probably put through the hellish experience of pre-writing (don't worry - I hated it too). Before you could start writing all about what you did on summer vacation, you had to sit down and actually jot down your thoughts. Organize them. Put them into some semblance of an outline. From there, you could begin your essay and hand it in just in time for recess.
The crazy thing was that your paper actually stayed more focused when you knew what you wanted to write about. It was harder to stray from the topic and easier to put together coherent sentences. Your outline was like a road map, guiding you one step closer to sweet, sweet recess. In the real world, the outline is insurance that you get your work done right the first time.
- Keep you focused, so you won't stray off topic and lead the reader into the wilderness.
- Make you pay attention to what you're writing, so you're less likely to make a mistake.
- Help you write faster. It helps to know where you're going.
- Can make you a better writer.
OK, so it's been awhile since you've had to write an outline for anything other than a book report. Not to worry. There's a great Copyblogger post on mapping out your ideas.
You can also try the method below, but keep in mind, there's no right or wrong way to outline. It's really up to you.
How To Make An Easy, Effective Outline
The first step in creating an outline lies in knowing your topic.
Decide on the one key message that your want your article to covey. By distilling your entire page into one topic, you'll be more likely to focus on the task at hand.
Now that you have a clear idea of what you're writing about, jot down a few unique value propositions, facts, or talking points that you definitely want to incorporate. Set this list aside -- you'll be using it later.
OK, so you have your topic and you have a few talking points to work with. Now what? Start out by making a simple three part outline: introduction, body, and conclusion. This is the easiest framework to work with when writing just about anything.
In the introduction, make a few bullet points (or list, boxes, etc.) that can help you set the tone for the article. Identify the problem. Make a bold statement. Do something to get the readers attention. Incorporate a talking point from the list you made earlier. Just do something to start things off.
Next, move into the body of the article with a list ideas that all reconnect back to your original topic. Think about the logical progression of information. Tell a story. Explain how to do something. Lead the reader through the body of the article using details that engage, motivate, or invite. Remember that list you made? Use some of those details in this section and remember " keep things focused. Your outline is really the skeleton of your article.
Finally, the body will lead into the conclusion. This is where you incorporate your call to action and a final reconnection back to the topic. Tie things up nicely and don't leave the reader hanging " unless that's your intent.
Once you've finished the outline, go back through and make sure that all of the thoughts are consistent with your key message. Check facts. Solidify the argument. Keep with the logical pattern. Follow the story. That's it; the outline is finished. From here, it'll be much easier to do what you set out to do in the first place: write.