Many writers simply dive into their writing projects when the mood hits them and not bother to outline their writing. Then, half way in, they’ll look back over their work and realize they’ve gotten way off track from where they originally started.

Whether you write for business, create non-fiction articles, write educational materials, write for children, or even write novels, outlining your plan of action before you start can save you time and help keep you focused. Additionally, outlining helps create a visual you can use to see the overall structure of your work, and it makes writing your draft and doing reorganization work much easier.

In this first of two posts, I’ll take a look at how to set up an outline and discuss what the beginnings of one should look like.

Before starting your outline, you’ll need to determine how you want to organize your work. Should you organize chronologically or reverse chronologically, or should the elements be organized by a particular related grouping? If you’re writing fiction, you can organize by chapter or by plot line, which often involves a time line, so you can keep track of where your story is headed.

Once you determine how to organize, you’ll then need to group related pieces of information. Group these into major and minor points. Your major points should directly support the purpose or theme of your work, while the minor points would, in turn, support the major ones. If you find minor points along the way that do not support any of your major points,  either get rid of those minor ones, or if you think the information is critical, develop other similar points so you can also create a major point for the group of minor ones. You don’t want any stragglers!

Start off by labeling all these major points with a Roman numeral, beginning with the Introduction. If you’re writing nonfiction, these major points will ultimately become sentences, so you can either turn them into sentence form now, or leave them as words or phrases, developing sentences from them later.

Place your main points or main headings into logical order, based on the organizational method you’ve chosen. If you decided on a chronological organization, your main headings may simply be dates, time frames,  or events.

After your main headings are laid out, arrange each of your minor points under them accordingly, using capital letters.  Make sure your minor points carry equal weight in that they share importance in your story or article. If they do not, move the lesser important ones to become subpoints of the minor points. Label these with Arabic numerals.

Now that you have the basic structure for your outline, next time I’ll discuss creating an introduction, a conclusion, and joining your points in between!

If you have an article or other piece of work in the beginning stages right now, apply these principles to create an outline for it. Let me know how it goes!