Outline Even for Online

MarilynDavisatTIERSStarred Page By MarilynDavisatTIERS, 15th Apr 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Tips

“I start with an idea that is no more than a paragraph long, and expand it slowly into an outline. But I'm always surprised by the directions things take when I actually start writing.” ~Barry Schwartz

Diversity or Distraction?

Barry Schwartz captured my attention in The Paradox of Choice – Why More is Less with several studies showing that multiple choices create difficulties for people making decisions. Schwartz cited a study where people sampled 24 varieties of jam in one group, while the other group could only sample six of the 24 selections. Each group could then decide which of the jams to purchase. The surprising result was that the group with more limited samplings purchased more. This mental process has application for writers of articles as well.

When deciding which subject or topic to write about, there are familiar subjects and then there are the subjects that a writer might like; however, they have not written on the topic before. An outline helps them frame the piece even before they write.

Psychologists have recognized for many years that humans have a limited capacity to store new information in the memory. Psychologist George Miller was influential in studying how individuals process and retain information. His studies confirmed that the average individual experiences information overload after seven pieces of information.

If you substituted information for jam, you can see that too much information is an ineffective way to engage and retain readers. Before you decide that you are a writer, not some college student or researcher, and that an outline will not benefit you, think about your choices.

Do you want to stay on track with your original idea?
• Do you want readers to leave because you digressed so far off topic?

Does Your Article Have Too Much Jam?

Writers today have access to reams of information about any topic with a simple Google search, and while readers want varied and interesting information, too many links or too much information can cause a disconnect with the readers.

If a writer is just free writing and brainstorming any topic, there is the risk of including all the adjuncts and subordinating information about topics from the research.

Without an Outline and Structure

When this happens, it is easy to lose focus about the original idea. The writing is flowing, the other information about the topic is readily available; there are 37 quotes by famous people about the topic, 45 pictures that will enhance the words, not to mention the 17 U-tube videos underscoring the original idea, plus 26 other aspects of the topic that might have application.

Starting to get a picture of just how quickly a writer gets lost in the minutia?

Great Ideas Can Go Up in Smoke without a Plan

How many times have writers found themselves in the middle of an article and had to stop to think about the following questions. When these interfere with the writing, it may be an indication of too much jam or information that is not sequentially flowing.

Answering any of these questions while trying to write diminishes the writing, as all of these distractions require the writer to stop writing and make corrections, find another source, or look at a photo or image.

Questions for an Outline

With an outline, the writer has a reference point or guide that does not interrupt or disturb the writing process. An outline helps a writer frame the information in an organized manner. It does not diminish the creative process, in fact, it allows for more creativity in the writing when the structure is in place.

Know Where You are Going in Your Writing

Think about an outline as your writing GPS. We all know that there are the scenic routes and the direct routes to any destination. Depending on the platform for the writing determines which route the writer takes. On some sites, readers are accustomed to reading articles of 400 words, on other sites; they may enjoy a 1000+ word article.

Writers can engage readers with as little as three main points or add analogies or counterpoints with six main points. If a site restricts word count, the writer can aim for three as diagramed in the image.

Basic Outline Format

An outline will also help the writer stay on track with the title or topic by:

Organizing main ideas with subordinate information
• Presenting the information in a logical manner
• Demonstrating the relationship between the sub-topics
• Constructing an orderly overview of ideas
• Consolidating the article in the conclusion

Outlines also let a writer add other points if the research indicates that they would add value. In outline format, inserting these additional sections is easier to maintain continuity and flow before the actual writing takes place.

Interruptions Happen

Interruptions happen to writers all the time – phone, checking emails, day jobs, emergencies and families.

The average writer starts back at the beginning of the article to catch up after a distraction. This is counterproductive, as most writers will start finding flaws in the writing, begin to edit or revise the beginning of the article when they have not even completed the first draft.

Build An Article with a Plan

Regardless of the nature of the interruption, an outline, used like an architectural blueprint or floor plan helps the writer see the finished design and can easily refocus attention.

An outline improves a writer’s skill in creating a first draft without editing while writing. There is no issue with trying to figure out the correlations between paragraph one and paragraph four; the outline demonstrates the flow and presentation of the article.

This is especially true for writers familiar with their subject when it is apparent that the writer needs to add, subtract or change the order of certain ideas. An outline helps the writer maintain the logical progression of the article and improve their communication of the ideas before spending time writing the piece.

Don’t Lose those Great Ideas

When a writer learns to streamline the process of writing using an outline, both the writer and readers have a better experience. An added benefit of an outline is that if you exceed a word count for one site, you will have additional information that might be suitable for another article or reworked for a different site. In addition, an outline lessens the possibility of great writing simply going up in smoke because the writer got distracted and forgot.

With an outline, the writer already has another article in the works helping with that annoying problem of writer’s block. Outlines streamline the choices for all writers and help with simplifying the direction for the next article.


For additional articles by Marilyn Davis
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Credits
Questions for Outline and Basic Outline Parts: Marilyn Davis
Man with Diagram: Microsoft clip art
Light Bulb and Floor Plan: Wikmedia Commons
Jams: Google Images

Tags

Creating An Outline For Online, Oulines For Articles, Outling, Outlining An Article, Why Outlines Make Writing Easier

Meet the author

author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
A Certified Addiction Recovery Empowerment Specialist, with 25 years of abstinence-based recovery. I write about addictions, recovery, life lessons and general writing tips.

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Comments

author avatar Phyl Campbell
15th Apr 2014 (#)

I don't typically outline, but I do freehand most articles before I type. Then they sit and sit as I procrastinate to get them online... ;)

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
15th Apr 2014 (#)

Good evening, Phyl, if I put the effort into the outline, I then get things written and published. That just works for me. Thanks for the comment. ~Marilyn

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author avatar Jerry Walch
15th Apr 2014 (#)

As a general rule one should always outline before one writes any article but it's a rule that I don't always follow. Whether I outline first depends on what I'm writing about and how well I know the subject matter.

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
15th Apr 2014 (#)

Good evening, Jerry, I do not outline every article either, and sometimes I regret it - realize after it's published that I didn't link sources, or left out a key feature, so really trying to practice what I preach and use oulines more. Thanks for your comment. ~Marilyn

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
15th Apr 2014 (#)

Good evening, Peter, thank you for moderating and the Star. ~Marilyn

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author avatar Fern Mc Costigan
16th Apr 2014 (#)

another great post filled with interesting facts with your courtesy and wisdom!

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
16th Apr 2014 (#)

Good morning, Fern, thank you for the comment. I appreciate that you mentioned the courtesy. I think we can all try to be more courteous in both our writing and our comments. Wisdom - that one may take some more work on my part :) ~Marilyn

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author avatar cnwriter..carolina
16th Apr 2014 (#)

how fascinating is this as so many of your pages are..thank you Marilyn...sharing..

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
16th Apr 2014 (#)

Good morning, Carolina, I am just a curious child at heart and find much that is still interesting to me - like the jam experiment. If it is interesting to others like yourself, that is great. Thanks for the comment and share. ~Marilyn

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author avatar Retired
16th Apr 2014 (#)

Great information. . .I find that writing outlines does keep me more focused on the subject a little better.

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
16th Apr 2014 (#)

Good morning, Starrleena, thank you for the comment. My outline for this article was in some places longer than the article.....just gave me ideas for another article that is in the works, so I do like the theory and the end result of an outline. ~Marilyn

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author avatar Connie McKinney
16th Apr 2014 (#)

I use an outline for complicated subjects but I don't always use one. Maybe I should start using them more. Great advice, as usual, Marilyn.

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
16th Apr 2014 (#)

Good morning, Connie, an outline is starting to be more appealing to me as I write other material. Keeping up with all of the information available about any subject just takes good notes and an outline keeps me straight. I have not always thought I needed one with a subject I knew about, yet there is so much today that is new about addiction that I have changed my mind about the mechanics of outlining. Thanks for the comment. ~Marilyn

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author avatar joyalariwo
16th Apr 2014 (#)

Hi Marilyn interesting article and yes it is important to outline our write ups, we keep adding to it before it takes the final shape of our article.

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
17th Apr 2014 (#)

Good afternoon, joyalariwo, thanks for the comment - it's those additions that I have to keep straight, as I said earlier. With so much info available and how easy it is to hit publish, an outline means I might get all said and in place before I see it published without key features. ~Marilyn

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author avatar GV Rama Rao
16th Apr 2014 (#)

A fine piece of writing useful for all writers from beginners to the old hands.

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
17th Apr 2014 (#)

Good evening, G.V. Thank you for your comment, old hand. It means a lot to me that you visited, read and commented. ~Marilyn

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author avatar Helen Thomas
18th Apr 2014 (#)

WOW ~ Thanks ~ Marilyn for this very interesting and informative article.

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
18th Apr 2014 (#)

Good evening, Helen, thank you for the kind words. Use this to map out your next article and let me know if it helps. ~Marilyn

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
18th Apr 2014 (#)

I am not sure I think the tactic of starting with the strongest point first is always the best way to go, it is certainly one tactic, but not the only one.

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
18th Apr 2014 (#)

Good afternoon, Peter, you are correct, there are other approaches, such as building up to the strongest point. Thanks for the added comment and perspective. ~Marilyn

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author avatar Retired
19th Apr 2014 (#)

Outline is really such a good help in giving your writing a sensible directions.
Thanks for sharing this thorough guide.

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
19th Apr 2014 (#)

Good morning, Angel, thank you. I think all of us can benefit from organizing our thougths, emotions, research and ideas before we start free writing. It is just one more step in making a credible article. Again, thanks for the comment. ~Marilyn

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author avatar ritzwitz
21st Apr 2014 (#)

Very useful information. Thanks for sharing.

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
21st Apr 2014 (#)

Good morning, Ritzwitz, thank you for your comment. I think an outline helps us stay a little more organized and that means that most of what we want to include actually makes it to the published page. ~Marilyn

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
21st Apr 2014 (#)

Thanks Marilyn, your posts make us better writers and also thought provoking when taken along with the comments that they generate and your detailed replies. They highlight the ingredients needed to improve over time than just churning out posts like clockwork. An outline keeps us focused on the topic - siva

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
21st Apr 2014 (#)

Good morning, Siva. Thank you. I find that the comments, such as yours, stimulate other perspectives even from me. I think staying focused is vital for article writing. We have a limited number of words to attract and keep our readers in these short pieces and using strong verbs and nouns, bullets, and links mean I have to be organized or I tend to write too much. Again, thanks for your comments and encouragement. ~Marilyn

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author avatar Ptrikha
22nd Apr 2014 (#)

Great article. Looks to me more like an official Documentation for a new concept in an academic course! Kudos!

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author avatar Ptrikha
22nd Apr 2014 (#)

I have recently used Outlining(though not as elaborate as you discuss here) for my articles, and it amazes me that how detailed my articles can get without my trying hard to increase the use of words.

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
22nd Apr 2014 (#)

Good morning, Ptrikha, my background is in education, so I guess many of my articles do end up being written along those lines. I like outlines for most of my article, however, writing organically or spontaneously has it good points as well. I'm working on another piece about the differences....stay tuned. Thanks for the comments. ~Marilyn

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author avatar Ptrikha
23rd Apr 2014 (#)

Also, the concept of using Sections which Wikinut provides acts as a great tool and motivator to help in outlining concepts.

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author avatar WOGIAM
22nd Apr 2014 (#)

I wish I had the magic of crafting outlines for all my articles, they help. I suppose with practice and time my writing would continue to improve. Thanks for sharing.

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
22nd Apr 2014 (#)

Good morning, Wogiam, I just finished an article about organic and planned articles. I think both have a place in our writing, and I think both types can be productive. However, I think we improve by writing more, seeing what works, focusing on good editing and revising, and then letting the readers and comments help us hone our writing further. Thanks for your comment. ~Marilyn

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