Can you imagine a house being created without a blueprint? The final product would be a sight to behold. The walls probably would be mismatched, the rooms would be randomly placed, and the final outcome would be a hodgepodge. Any project, whether it is a building, a work of art, or a writing project, needs to have a basic plan. A sort of skeleton onto which the flesh of the project will be placed.
That’s what your outline is for your writing project. When you have a good outline, you have a plan which will go a long way toward guaranteeing your successful outcome. In fact that is one of the keys to creating a great piece of writing. And yet many writers completely overlook this step, particularly when they’re writing short pieces like articles and reports. So where do you start?
Step #1: Pick Your Topic
Spend some time thinking about what you want to say. What is the main point you want to get across? As you do this exercise, remember that you need to focus on your audience you are reaching. You’re already working in a specific niche, so now you just need to pick a topic for your article, report, e-book or other content piece. Obviously, you want to choose a popular topic.
You can do this by:
- Looking at paid products (on sites like Clickbank.com and Amazon.com) to see which topics are being sought by people. When you see a lot of interest in a certain area, you know that people are seeking answers in that area, and you know that you can help them.
- Checking out niche forums and blogs to see which topics generate a lot of interest and discussion. (A concentrated Google search will locate some of these tools).
Step #2: Choose Your Primary Goal for This Piece
Once you’ve picked your topic, then you need to decide what your goal is for this piece. You can also decide the approximate length.
- Is it an article for your blog? If so, what is the goal of this article? For example, is it to provide spiritual answers for your audience? Is it to encourage your following to pray for revival? Or is it to get people to join your email list?
- Is it a free report, introducing yourself? If so, then the goal is to “warm up” prospects and get them to click your links. You want to show people who you are, and how you can help them.
- Is it a paid e-book? If so, then the goal is to give your readers in-depth instructions and encourage them to take action.
Knowing your primary goal will help you keep your writing focused on the goal.
Step #3: Do Your Preliminary Research
If you’re not an expert in the niche, then you’ll need to do some initial research in order to determine what steps, tips, or topics you need to cover in your piece. (More about this Here).
Note: A simple keyword search (such as “how to pray successfully”) will uncover hundreds of similar content pieces, so you can look at these pieces to determine which topics you need to include in your article, report or e-book, too. Remember, don’t expect to be the only voice out there solving problems or bringing encouragement.
Tip: If you’re writing a book, go to Amazon.com and search for similar books. That’s because Amazon let’s you take a peek inside the book to see the table of contents. These tables of contents will give you plenty of ideas about what topics to include in your book.
Step #4: Create Your Outline
Once you have a good idea about what topics to include in your content piece, now it’s time to create your outline.
If you need guidance as to how to order your topics, just go back to your research to see how other popular content pieces ordered their topics. Otherwise, here are a few general guidelines:
- Logical order. If you’re describing a step-by-step process, then obviously your outline will list the steps in order.
- Beginner to advanced material. Self-explanatory – put the easier material at the beginning of your piece.
- Faster results to slower results. If you’re listing different tips or strategies, you might order them from those that get quick results to those that take longer to implement.
- Mix of tips. Here you might put one or two of your BEST tips in the beginning and then put another one or two of your best tips at the end.
Next, you should assign an approximate word count to each section, which will help you stay focused on the most important parts of your content piece.
Finally, don’t forget to look at your outline to ensure that it helps you meet the goal of your content piece (such as preselling a product or teaching your readers a process). If your outline looks good, then it’s time to start your writing!