Writing an Outline for Your Articles

Remember back in junior high? The teacher gave us an assignment to write a books report. Seems simple enough until she explained that this book report would be done in parts. First we’d have to create an outline, then a rough draft. Finally, we would hand in our report and give an oral presentation.

What are all these things? Outline? Rough Draft? How come we couldn’t just write our report and hand it in?

It seems that our teachers had a plan. They wanted to teach us a method for writing well. And so we learned how to outline. We learned how to write a rough draft and polish it for the final report.

And we used these tools in high school and college. Why? Because it was the most effective way to write? Of course not. It was what the teacher required.

As we move out of the classroom and into the working world, did the habits we learned stick with us? Probably not. Do we take the extra time to outline and draft when simultaneously faced with deadlines and other job pressures? I doubt it.

This is probably the best time to use those trusty tools from our school days. Writing well could have a tremendous impact on your work or job.

If you work as a freelance writer, as many of us do, it is critical to stay organized and use your time well. Little did we know it back then, but our 5th grade teacher may just have given is just what we need to write faster and earn more money from our effort. Thanks, Mrs. Benson.

When faced with your next assignment, try writing an outline first. An outline helps you prepare your idea. Consider it a roadmap for your story. A good outline will make writing your faster and easier. It will keep you focused and on task. You won’t have to worry about getting too far from your main ideas when you have a well organized outline.

To start, write a working title at the top of your page. This title should reflect the focus of your article. It’s just a working title, so don’t spend a lot of time on it. You can go back and change it once you’ve written your article.

If you don’t know much about your topic, you may need to do some research first. You can begin with general sources of information – remember using encyclopedia’s in grade school. A general source won’t go into too much detail but it will give you a overview of your topic. From there move on to more specific sources.

Brainstorm ideas for your topic. Just write down ideas as they come to you. Don’t worry that they’re not fully-formed ideas or they may not belong in your story. Just get it all on paper and you can work with it later. Include phrases and sentences that come to mind. Review your notes if you need to at this point.

When starting your outline, begin by writing a short paragraph about your topic. You might remember this as a thesis. In this paragraph you should take a position about your topic that you intend to demonstrate, prove, or otherwise argue for.

Next, write down three or four points that support your thesis statement. You can write more if you need to, but for an average article, you should only need three or four. These will become the main points of the article.

Under each of these main points, write a brief sentence stating how you will support those points. These sub-points are facts, quotations, or statistics gathered from your research.

You should now have a basic outline from which to work. Your research should be organized and you have written down some ideas, topic sentences, and story twists. Now you can actually get to the writing.

Don’t spend too much time on the outline. It’s easy to go off on a rabbit trail creating point and sub-points and sub-points for each of your sub-points. Instead, create broad strokes. Don’t even worry too much that your outline is in the “proper” format like you learned in grade school. The object of your outline should be to organize your thoughts to make the writing come easier.

When writing from you article, you’ll want to connect your points and sub-points together. Start with some variation of your thesis statement to let your readers know the path you’re on.

Don’t forget the conclusion. I like to wrap everything up in a recap of my main thesis. It’s the old formula: tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em, tell ’em, and then tell ’em what you just told ’em.

As you are fleshing out your ideas from your outline, you may want to just write a draft. The point of writing a draft is to get everything on paper. Don’t worry about form and style at this point. Once you’re done with a draft, review it and re-write.

Some writers can write a perfect final draft from an outline, or even notes in their head. Many more agonize over every word. Sometimes it’s helpful to rely on some of the old standby tools we learned when we were first learning to write. If nothing else, it may just get you past a stumbling block on a particular project.

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