Writing any kind of content can be stressful and make even the most experienced author anxious. Whether you write all the time or just got a random request to pen an article – an outline is the way to start.
Our world is fast-paced and “stream of consciousness,” and writing has somehow followed those trends. The quality of writing has suffered in our pursuit of more, faster – probably due in large part to a lack of basic upfront planning. And an outline is a great way to meet that challenge.
An outline isn’t old-fashioned (although it does bring to mind card catalogues and reference books); it’s actually a great foundation for any type of long content. Blog lengths used to be 600-700 words – but Google has recently upped that to 1000 words. While there are people who can pound out that many words quickly, it’s rare to find someone who can produce a quality written piece at the same time. Below are tips on how to write an outline for effective digital content.
Know Your Audience
The first step to outlining is figuring out who you’re writing the piece for and what platform you’ll be using. These are important questions, because you won’t write the same depending on your audience and if you’re writing for your own blog, LinkedIn, Twitter, as a guest blogger, Facebook, for SEO, or cross-linking.
Create a Template
While there are many reasons for an outline, after identifying your audience the most obvious is to help get your thoughts in order, and the chance to arrange and re-arrange that order. You’re focused on the points you want to make and can actually see the flow. A little time invested at the beginning gives your resulting article better value. Outlines generally have a fairly standard layout, but there are a lot of different ways to put one together.
Getting distracted is easy – you’re right in the middle of writing and get your phone rings, email dings, or someone drops by for a chat. If your piece feels unfocused or like it’s gone down the wrong path, a great tool is creating a “retro” outline from what you’ve written. By comparing the original outline to the retro one, it’ll be easy to see what rabbit hole you explored.
Take Your Time
Writing an outline absolutely takes time, but the more you create them the more you’ll get used to the thought process and the less time they’ll take. When you start with your audience and their needs and then put your ideas in a logical order, the flow will be smoother and make the connection with your audience easier and better. And the time you spend at the beginning will definitely save you time in the end, as well as giving you that “yeah!” feeling when you’ve written a great piece.
You want to write well, you want to write with confidence, and you don’t want it to take all day. When you want to accomplish all three and hit your deadlines, you’ll find outlining never goes out of style.