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How Using an Outline Improves Your Writing

Tackling a writing project can be overwhelming — even if you are already very comfortable with the topic. Whether you are writing a brief essay or a long blog post, you may be able to improve your writing thanks to the use of an outline. Discover how to create outlines, what kinds of outlines work best and how to get into the habit of creating an outline with every new piece of writing you begin.

Creating an Outline

 
In order to use an outline to improve your writing, you need to have an outline in place. For many writers, it is easiest to create a new outline for every single project. However, it is also helpful to keep a few templates on hand that you can use at a moment’s notice. For example, you might use the following as an outline template for a standard blog post:

  1. Introduction
  2. Main Point #1
    1. Detail
    2. Detail
  3. Main Point #2
    1. Detail
    2. Detail
  4. Main Point #3
    1. Detail
  5. Conclusion

Using this outline simply allows writers to see where their story is going. Once you plug in the main points, it becomes clear where you need additional text and what will be recapped and included in both the introduction and conclusion.

Writers can cut and paste generic outlines like this right into their preferred choice of word processing software. Then, simply add and subtract details as needed. Of course, many writers will want to create new outlines for each project depending on clients’ needs, topics and the overall length of the piece.

Deciding on the Right Kind of Outline

 
The example of the outline above can be considered a rough line outline. That means that it is applicable to most standard essays or blog posts, but it does not contain much in the way of detail or supporting evidence. Fortunately, there are many other types of outlines that can go a long way in improving your overall writing.

One example of an outline could be the one-sentence outline. In a one-sentence outline, you will spend a little more type crafting each line of the outline. This takes more time up front, but it means that you can writer faster once you are ready to start working on the content of the piece. Imagine that you were asked to write a blog post on the value of a healthy diet. Your outline might look a little something like this:

  1. Introduction – why people want to eat a healthy diet
  2. Nutrition
    1. Vitamins
    2. Minerals
    3. Fiber
  3. Healthy Weight
    1. Filling, healthy foods
  4. Energy
    1. Nutrient-dense ingredients
    2. Avoid sugar crashes
  5. Summary: Recap of benefits

As you can see, this outline has a lot more information available. It will take you more time to think of all the various points up front, but the process of writing will typically go faster and more smoothly once this extensive outline is complete.

Some writers also rely on what are known as full-paragraph outlines. While helpful, these are often best kept for very long projects. For example, you might be asked to write an e-book for a particular client. A paragraph outline will take a long time to put together, but it is the ideal jumping-off point for extensive projects that might take weeks to write in their entirety.
 

Benefits of Using an Outline

 
The most common reason to use an outline is because it can save time. However, outlines are more than just an efficient tool. They can also go a long way in actually improving your writing, bringing clarity to your readers and ensuring that you do not miss any vital content within the piece.

You have almost certainly read something in the past that feels disjointed. It might feel as if someone started writing and then got up and left before a brand-new writer sat down to finish the article! This happens when the writing lacks flow or continuity from one paragraph to the next. Often, this is because pieces of the work are written out of order. By using an outline, writers may find it easier to flow from one concept to the next in a natural, organic and easy-to-follow way.

At the same time, an outline can ensure that you don’t forget anything important. This is especially true among freelance writers who are paid by the word. If you reach your word count for an article and then remember that you need to include a new paragraph about something else, it could disrupt the entire piece. Working from an outline right from the beginning allows you to see what still needs to be written and what is already complete.

Getting in the Habit of Using Outlines

 
Clearly, using an outline is a great choice for anyone who is serious about improving their writing. In order for outlines to become a key part of your writing approach, however, they need to become routine. To get in the habit of using outlines, try relying on templates, starting with a blank page and comparing your outline to the finished work.

While many writers will get comfortable with creating outlines on their own, it is perfectly acceptable to rely on templates. Just cut and paste a basic outline and then start filling in each section as you write. To facilitate this, start your writing on a blank page. Make sure the outline is the focus and not just part of the page.

A great tip is to keep the outline and compare it to your final product. Did you manage to stick to the outline? Did you come up with new points, or did you get rid of some of your original outlined points? Comparing and contrasting can show you what you might want to change and how to create more effective outlines in the future.

One of the best tools an author can rely on is the outline. Whether you craft your own outline for each article, rely on templates or simply use outlines as a refresher every now and again, they can be a fantastic way to improve your writing.
 

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