November 20, 2006

The Outline - Your Path to Success

I find it fascinating that some writers can submit a first draft to a client based solely on a content interview or the written material provided to them. Many clients have told me of their "ohmagod" moments. That's when a client receives a first draft that bears little resemblance to their expectations of it. What solves this dilemma? A detailed outline. Seems like a no-brainer, no? Well, I'm not alone in this theory. In fact most writers have embraced the concept of using and submitting outlines to their clients as an essential part of the writing process.

One blogging site, Angela Booth's Writing Blog, shares a similar concept about outlines with her readers. In it, she writes about her experience with outlines in this way:

I've made my peace with outlines. Now I do outline - once I know what I want to say. However, the outline may morph many times in the writing process, and this is true for every writer I know."

Angela's view that outlines change multiple times during the writing process is also reinforced by an article from the American Psychological Association, entitled "To outline, or not to outline?, in which the author, Sarah Ransdell, PhD, a writing-cognition researcher and professor at Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, points out that an outline helps a writer organize a series of steps that they do naturally and simultaneously — first planning, then writing, then revising. Therefore, an outline doesn't merely represent the structure of a white paper, but it is a complete planning tool that a writer can use before and during the project to ensure it accomplishes its stated goal. I take this a step further and find that a detailed outline provides myself and the client with some essential components to ensure its success:
  • Ensures that the white paper will be "on message" with critical points.
  • Validates the most important points per section of the paper.
  • Gives the client an idea of overall page length of the document.
  • Tests a proposed title and sub-title to see if it will meet their approval.
  • Provides a flow to the white paper - how each section leads to the next.
  • Allows the client to make structural changes - giving them "buy-in" to the development process BEFORE any writing has started.

While some may find the process of outlining painful, I find it is an essential step to ensure client satisfaction.

Do you find outlines difficult or easy? Please let me know. Please help support this with your blog link. Thank you!

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