Create an outline before you start work
Great blog posts don’t just happen. Even the best bloggers need a rough idea to keep them on-track. This is where outlines come in handy.
Planning your content with a blog outline can do more than help you save time—it can help you be a better writer. It can help you train your thought process and keep you from a wandering thought process. It also helps you get past writer’s block.
An outline doesn’t need to be lengthy, or even detailed – it’s just a succinct guide to make sure you don’t ramble on and on about something barely related to your topic.
Imagine cooking a celebratory feast:
You have a delicious starter to prepare. Perhaps an amuse bouche, too. You have several main dishes that all need to get on the table at once. And then there’s dessert. Plus coffee, cognac, and chocolates.
Would you start cooking without a plan? You know you need to plan in advance so your perfectly char-grilled steak doesn’t go cold while you’re preparing pepper sauce and steaming asparagus. When you cook a festive meal, you avoid experimentation, follow trusted recipes, and implement a carefully thought-out plan.
So what do you do when you write? Do you follow proven recipes? Writing is, of course, not the same as cooking.
You can follow tried-and-tested blog recipes, or you can try a more experimental method. Whichever method you follow, you need to evaluate the flow of your blog post. To make sure your content is easy-to-read, engaging, and persuasive.
So, the first step for every article we write is to create a succinct outline. Let's get started with some real-world examples.
Example 1: Want to save time? Create an outline.
Here's a real-world example showing why it's a good idea to create an outline.
Example 2: Hone your outline to deeply explore a topic
Here is another real-world example from our team as to how an outline should be written. Again, you can save time and money for yourself, by focusing down on just a single idea and fully exploring it, deeper.
If you go too wide on a topic then you will lose the reader's attention.
Here's the writer's response from the screencast above. This revised outline has more depth and better focus on a small number of key ideas.
Example 3: Outline for a listicle article
A few key points to take note of in this example are:
Big Idea: The writer sets out her big idea and this gives her the focus for the article. Her big idea contains BENEFIT statements for the reader i.e. what the reader will learn. This is her promise for the reader, that she'll fulfil by the end of the article.
Target Audience: By restating the audience the writer firmly has in mind who she is writing for. And this can mean the difference between a good storyline or something that sends people to sleep. This is not essential, but include it if it helps you remember who you're writing for.
Search Intent: By reinforcing the search, or user intent, the writer ensures that she's focused on answering that solution. The article ends up being more solution-oriented than problem-oriented.
Example 4: Too many ideas means not enough depth
In this example the writer has provided 5 subjects and 16 sub-points. Writing on 16 ideas will definitely be too much to cover in just 1,200 words.
If you consider that each section (bold text) needs a quick introduction, and then each bullet point is one idea. Then, this adds up.
If we're aiming for around 1,200 words then perhaps adding another 400 words doesn't add enough value to the current value. Instead, the 'extra' ideas could be used in a second article.
Instead reduce the number of sections. Instead of 5 sections, perhaps 3 would be sufficient. And instead of 4 ideas in a section, write 3 paragraphs.
Example 5: Outline with facts, instead of ideas
In this example the writer uses factual statements to break down the areas of knowledge. Whereas, if you compare with other examples in this lesson, you'll see that the statements are benefit-driven.
- Briefly describe the 8 features of proprietary LMS
- Recognise outstanding work publicly on forums and message boards
Look at the intent used in the above two lines. They're really quite different, aren't they! Totally different paragraphs will be the result.
Both styles are good to use. But, you need to pick one and be consistent throughout the article. An opinion or benefit-driven article will be different to a factual analysis of a topic.
Example 6: The 10-Minute 10-Step Solution
Here's a handy blog outline template which actually points out all the critical components of a good blog outline and helps you understand what to pay special attention to.
Example 7: Batching ideas for multiple articles
In the below PDF you'll see how the writer has very quickly accumulated a wide range of ideas on a single topic. The result is several articles, on the same topics, but each article has a slightly different theme.
You’ll note that the writer has written headings, included article examples and jotted down a few ideas under each heading. Perfect. This is good planning. Not too much detail, but enough to know what she's planning to write.
Instead of just writing one outline, the writer has created several outlines during her research phase. This is a great use of time and the result is a pipeline of good ideas.
You can easily imagine that it's much better to gather 100+ ideas and sort them into themes. The writer can move the bullet point ideas around to different articles.
Creating an entire list like this just about guarantees that you'll have article writing work for weeks or months in advance.
Example 8: Bad Outlines Are Easy To Spot
Check out this example in the screencast below. The bad outline is so easy to spot if you just do the maths. Consider that you have a maximum of 1,200 words. And your outline has 10 sections. That's going to be 120 words per section. Will it be possible to write with authority, depth, expertise and clarity on a single idea in 120 words?
This writer wrote down 10 ideas, many of which went off on a tangent to the original headline. They were somewhat related, but not really. The key ideas in the heading were HYGIENE and REPUTATION.
It would have been better to have 4 ideas that related to deep hygiene and how those would affect reputation.
Learn About Outlines From Other Writing Experts
Don't take our word for it. Read and learn from other writing experts. Explore the below reading list and you'll start to recognise the patterns for creating outlines. Reading repetition will help you to retain the information and then creating succinct outlines will become second nature for you.
- This article has an excellent outline structure that you can use in your own work.
- This article is quite detailed in regard to theory.
- Detailed guidance on how to easily write a good blog article outline is provided here, explained on an example.
- This simple and short article shows how creating an article outline can help you avoid over-research and a waste of time and energy (nice example outline included, summarising the main article points). Beware of going down the rabbit hole!
- A fun super short piece pointing out how to avoid wandering off topic when writing your outlines and articles.
- This article is very brief and short on detail, but it hits the main points. Pay special attention to steps #3 and #5.
- Making a plan to provide examples is a good idea.
- This thorough piece explains what to take into account before you start creating your outline and writing a blog post and helps you learn how to structure your thoughts clearly.
- This is a simple, quick-read article but it will help you to revise the topic again. Reading on the same topic will help you absorb the key points and embed the knowledge in your memory. Always remember to proofread your work before submitting it.
- You'll find several super useful content creation tools and tips in this post but make sure you focus your attention mostly on the section about creating a blog post outline this time.
- This is a sort of additional reading after you've learnt what makes a great blog post outline and how to create it. Read this piece to see the bigger picture and where the outlining step fits in the whole article writing process.
Before you submit your outline for approval or start writing (if you're working for yourself) create an outline. And, get better and faster at writing outlines. Ultimately you'll save yourself a great deal of time and money.
1 - Do you have 3 solid ideas or 9 wishy-washy ideas?
Cull to 3 or 4 solid ideas so you can write more deeply on the topic. Be brutal; cull. Save the other ideas for another article.
2 - Do you have an engaging, solid introduction in mind?
Your introduction will use a hook that keeps the reader reading. It will have a promise that you fulfil by the end of the article. Either a statistic, story, study, analogy etc.
3 - Are you providing solutions or just making a list of more problems for the reader?
Focus on writing about solutions, in-depth. Your outline should be a list of solutions. People don't search Google to find more problems. They are looking for solutions.
The below screencast goes into detail on these three above points.
Ready to Write Your Outline? Use This Handy Cheat Sheet
Not sure how to start your outline? Copy and paste the template below and keep your articles from getting off topic.
Title: Put Your Amazing Eye-Grabbing Title Here
Big Idea: What's the purpose of this post? What will you achieve by writing on this topic?
Target Audience: Who will is likely to find this information useful? Other blog writers? Business managers?
Search Intent: What will your reader be typing in their search bar for when they come across your post? 'How to write a great outline for my blog post' etc.
Keywords: A collection of short phrases intended to trigger SEO recognition. These should be used early in your article as well as in a sub-heading. 'Writing blog outlines, article outlines, writing an outline' etc.
- Here's your intro!
- Introduce your 3-5 points that you'll be covering in your article. Don't spread your content too thin. You want a enough words to go beyond the surface of your chosen subject.
- You can add a link if you're going to reference an authority source etc.
Section 1: Catchy Sub-Title That Compliments Your Headline
- A few points about the content of this section
- A link to a product or maybe a reputable source
- Repeat Section 1
CTA: Make sure your reader understands this transition. This can be done with a sub-heading or clear segue that signals to the reader that the call to action is coming up.
- Link to the product your selling
- Sentence or two on how you will 'sell' your product.