3 Easy Steps to Create an Outline

You have to write a document. It does not matter what kind of document –e-mail message, report, proposal, whatever. You want to ensure you cover every necessary topic. Create an outline to make sure you collect all the information you need.
How do you do that? My favorite way of starting is brainstorming with myself.
1. The Storm of Ideas
I just start writing down everything that I think needs to be in the document. I write it down (or type it) as it comes to mind. Even if something seems silly or unrelated, if it comes to mind, it goes on the list. The important thing is to get all ideas down on paper. Do not “edit” your list.
Keep adding to the list for 15 minutes. Just let it flow.
Then stop. Put the list away for a while – an hour, a day, whatever time you have.
2. The Weeding Process
After you let the list sit for a while, start the weeding process. Cross out any ideas that either do not fit with the topic or are unnecessary to the knowledge of the reader(s). I do not delete any ideas, yet. It is possible that you could cross out an item that later turns out to be a necessary piece. If you just cross it out, you can remember it later; if you delete it, it might be lost forever.
3. Building the Logic
Now that you have the list of items to include in the document, put them in a logical order. Group like items together. Perhaps draw an “umbrella” over the grouped items. Depending on the document, that umbrella could represent a chapter, a section within a chapter, a new paragraph, and so forth.
Next, rank the groups. In other words, decide what needs to be first, second, and so forth. Let the logic lead you.
Now you are ready to write your first draft.
In the long run, taking the time to create your outline will save you time. It might not seem like it when you are doing it, but when you find you left something out, looking at the outline to placement is far easier than going through the entire document to find its right place. If your document is a simple, one-paragraph e-mail message, you can probably do the three steps on a scrap of paper, or even in your head. Even for these short communiqués, some sort of outline helps you ensure that you cover everything necessary.

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Published in: on April 28, 2009 at 1:22 PM  Leave a Comment  
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