Writing Content? Your Outline is Your Compass

Alison Golan, Social Media Strategy Expert at Porter Consulting

compassAs a former English teacher, I’m a big fan of outlines. When developing any type of content over a few hundred words, your outline is your compass–keeping you on track and heading in the right direction as you write. My clients are experts at their business, so when it comes time to writing about what they do, they often jump right in…without a plan. The result can be a white paper or article that is unorganized and not as effective as it could be.

I understand skipping the research step, as business owners or employees usually know their topic backwards and forwards. But organizing your thoughts and writing them down in the form of an outline is essential. It keeps you on course, alerting you when you start to veer off in an unwanted direction.

Start with your main idea

When writing an outline, start with the main idea or reason for the content. Write one sentence that summarizes what you will cover in your brochure, white paper, article, or whatever you will be writing. Ask yourself, “After reading this document, what is the one thing I would like the reader to remember.” Once you figure that out, make sure you state this thought clearly and concisely. Everything in your content must build toward this main idea.

Select your key points

Next, select the main points you want to discuss that back up your main idea. I like to have 3-4 key points, which function as the support to your main idea. Make sure you don’t have too many key points. Research tells us that the average person can only hold 3-4 things in their short term or working memory at once (unless they employ memory tricks). You want people to remember what you wrote, so try to keep your key thoughts in this range.

Fill in the details

After choosing your key points, now it’s time to fill in the details. Make sure that every detail backs up each key point and doesn’t wander off in a different direction. Also, try to keep content under each main point approximately the same length. One main point shouldn’t have ten paragraphs worth of details, while another has two. They should be relatively consistent. If they aren’t, you may need to rework your outline.

Write your introduction and conclusion

Lastly, write your introduction and conclusion. I like to write these after I have outlined my content, because by then, I have a clear idea of what I’m actually writing. My introduction should grab the reader’s attention and introduce my topic. My conclusion should wrap up my content in a cohesive way.

The next time you are tasked with a writing project for your business, make sure to take the time to outline. Although it adds another step to your project, an outline will ensure your content is organized and much more effective.

Email me with your content development challenges, and I’ll try to address them in upcoming articles: agolan(at)porterconsulting(dot)net. For additional tips, follow me on Twitter @PRgetsSocial.


Alison Golan is a writer, social media consultant, and marketing expert with 20+ years of experience teaching technology companies how to better tell their stories. At Porter Consulting, Alison works with a team of professionals to help companies grow revenue and market share by utilizing the latest marketing and sales methodologies. To read more blogs by Alison, check out Porter Consulting’s blog site at www.porterconsulting.net.

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