OUTLINING YOUR TOPIC
Everything we do involves communication—written, verbal, and nonverbal. Today, due to the Internet and the World Wide Web, written communication is emerging as the primary format. Writing effectively is now an essential skill.
Sadly, writing skills are no longer emphasized in grade school. High school students do not have the skills for writing term and research papers. Colleges and universities are re-introducing writing skills into their curriculum in order to produce graduates who do possess these skills.
The goal of this article, however, is not to teach you how to write your doctoral thesis on the theory of why aardvarks did not evolve a brain big enough to support deductive reasoning. That task we will leave to the robed and mortar-boarded professors in the ivy-covered halls of higher learning. The purpose of this article is to give you some ideas and methods to use when you set out to write text for your web-based newsletter, self-marketing materials, or perhaps the self-help book that you are writing as a companion guide for your coaching or mentoring practice.
Part 1 will cover just some of the basics of how to outline and write your text. Part 2 will help you review your work, and how you can take your own good work and make it better.
Divide your topic into at least three workable segments, and title each segment. Now take those three segments and put them in their most logical order. Before the first segment, title an introduction, allow for a conclusion after the last segment. Now you have a workable outline.
Outlining the Segments
Don’t worry about your introduction or conclusion just yet, concentrate on the segments. Take each segment and break it down into a few parts. Bear in mind that each of these “parts” may be no more than a few sentences, so list as many distinct parts as you need under each segment. Just as you did with the segments, look at the parts you’ve listed. Put them in their most logical order. Now your subject matter in each segment is well ordered. With an orderly outline, you can insert new segments or parts at any time, and delete or rearrange the ones you have. When your outline is formatted to your satisfaction, you can begin to write with the confidence that you have not forgotten any key element.
WRITING YOUR TOPIC
It is not necessary to write your text from start to finish. With your detailed outline, you can write each piece separately if you prefer. One thing you might want to consider, however, is to always try to complete a part or segment before you close up shop for the day. You will run the risk of forgetting your line of thinking when you next sit down. If you must leave a part undone, take a few moments to make a few notes that will jog your memory when you are ready to write again.
As you write, if you find that Part C of Segment 2 now works best as Part A of Segment 1, you can easily re-structure your work. Just be sure you tidy up after yourself. If Part B of Segment 2 refers to what was Part C in Segment 2, then you need to correct that reference (or make whatever change is necessary to direct your reader).
Think of your target audience and write to that level. If you are addressing children, write in short, simple sentences. If you are writing for working women, use language and terms that pertain to their profession. Writing in lofty prose and substituting a five-dollar version of a fifty-cent adjective will not necessarily prove you are an effective or even good writer. Write for the people who are most likely to read your text in the words they will understand.
FINISHING YOUR TEXT
When you have written your main text, you can easily add the introduction and the conclusion.
In one or two clear paragraphs, you tell your reader what they are about to read. It might help to have your outline handy and you can just add a little meat to those bones. Don’t try to describe anything in detail, just use some easy, descriptive lines about the text as a whole. A third and final paragraph of your introduction can be a list of the order in which your topics (segments) are presented.
Your conclusion should be shorter than your introduction. After all, your reader has just plowed through the entire text—she doesn’t want new information at this point, nor does she need a complete re-hash of the text. Wrap up some loose ends, point out the conclusions you hope the reader has drawn. If your work is a self-help text, you might want to personalize your ending by adding a word of appropriate encouragement.
You can use these ideas for any writing assignment that you have before you, be it a newsletter article, a how-to manual, or the next New York Times #1 Bestseller. Order your thoughts in easily manageable pieces, arrange the pieces logically, write your text with your targeted audience in mind, and then slap on an introduction and wrap it up with a conclusion. Now you are writing effectively!
Look for “Writing Effectively Part 2” for tips on how to proofread your own work.