SOS: SUCCESSFUL OUTLINE STRATEGIES
Saturday is my “favorite” writing day; I’m able to work eight or more hours straight, drafting, editing and polishing my work. Although I’ve been literally chained to my computer all day (now @ hour 12), it’s a wonderful self-imposed exile. The phone is off and I’m in my “zone.” Thus far, I’ve completed:
> Contents for a writing workshop workbook
> Schedule for workbook completion (by Thursday)
> Created elegant cover page (image counts … thanks Microsoft Office Templates)
> Fine-tuned lesson plans for five communications and writing classes
> “Repurposed” previously developed content (it’s all about form AND function)
> Worked on four other active documents, including a new business pitch!
What's my secret? Outlines!
Emails, documents, reports and speeches all begin with the “skeleton” of an idea—an outline. Before starting any writing project, I think through what I’m trying to accomplish and how I can “repurpose” or “reformat” data. This saves time, our most valuable commodity; and I don’t have to reinvent the wheel!
First and foremost, I keep my audience top of mind. If I structure documents to meet their needs, I’ve won a major battle in the war for “mind share!” Outlines send SOS messages to readers, offering help and guidance.
I consider: Am I trying to connect with students or a new business prospect? Do I need to spend a few hours on research, or perhaps just let the info simmer awhile? How can I best connect broad concepts, questions and proposed deliverables for my reader?
Outlines mean different things to different people. Keep it simple. Don’t over think or overstate what you need to communicate. Often, your outline can be a few simple bullets to help organize your thoughts.
Think of the outline as a skeleton of what you’re trying to communicate. Once you add flesh to that skeleton, you’ll soon have a full body of work. The outline is the “heart” of your document; paragraphs flesh out main thoughts, while transitional sentences circulate ideas. Critical elements can be nailed with headings, so your thoughts and proposed actions have legs to stand on.
When developing an outline, I also keep the ROPE model in mind: Research, Opportunities, Programs and Evaluation. Therefore, my outline is a menu of what’s to come in the document body, delivered in easy-to-digest courses:
> Appetizer (Intro)
> Entrée (Body)
> Dessert (Close)
I try to stick to one subject and not scare off my audience by exhausting their brain. People are on “info overload.” Always be kind to your reader by helping to manage their “data diet.” You’ll usually get a more healthy response; often, your desired action!