The hardest part is over. Last week, we helped you create a great topic for your next masterpiece. The biggest hurdle has been jumped. So now we start writing. Right?
Not quite. You could jump right in, but the resulting piece would likely not be as good. In order to put out a good blog post, especially one in an area that may not quite fall into your area of expertise, it is critical to do some sort of research and planning.
When you dodge this step, you get a piece that wanders. It doesn’t have a direction because you haven’t oriented yourself towards one.
Outlining: Figuring Out What Your Piece Will Contain
Outlining is something that mainly occurs in my head, then is formally written down once I sit down to write. But sometimes, especially if I am trying to eke some length from my post, I will sit down and brainstorm all the areas I need to cover.
This post was one of those, as I needed to figure out a way to talk about my pre-writing process without overlapping back into idea generation or forward into my actual writing process.
So I sat down and came up with this, complete with some weird doodles when I was thinking about exactly what I wanted to say.
What you see above is a disorganized layout of the key points I want to cover in this article. Sometimes, these are the headers for the article, other times, these are sentences that need a header to fall under. In this outline, I started with the assumption that I would be combining my research and writing process, which explains the last couple of points that I have laid out. Those will not be covered in this article, but in the next one.
As I said before, I don’t always physically plan out my articles, but I am always thinking about them. One of the most important pieces of planning an article is figuring out how you are going to start it. Once you have the meat of the article planned out, complete with the arguments or points you’d like to make, figure out how you are going to bring the reader up to that point.
Anyone who writes can and would argue that the introduction is the hardest part about writing an article. I sometimes spend longer thinking about those first few paragraphs than I spend writing the entire rest of the article.
Other times, I start turning over the article in my mind in a place that isn’t working and all of a sudden, the perfect introduction reveals itself to me.
Sometimes it’s anecdotal, sometimes it’s a strong statement that others may disagree with. Other times, while I’m researching, I find a quick and catchy statistic that will surprise or impress a reader.
That’s what you need to go for when you are considering the planning stages of an article. Figure out how to hook readers, then keep hooking them to draw them through the article.
It depends on the article, but research actually occurs in two different areas of the pre-writing process.
If the topic of the article is terribly complex or I don’t know much about it, I will research before I think about any sort of structure. This is how I begin my preliminary research for a complex article.
My Tab System
When I am looking to write an article on a topic I don’t know much about I start by googling the topic word and then opening the entire first page of relevant results in individual tab.
I then systematically, from left to right, take in the contents of each article, pulling out chunks of text that I want to reference or quote. These are placed underneath the URL so that I can reference exactly where each interesting little tidbit came from.
This not only keeps me organized, but it eliminates the risk of accidental plagiarism (arguably the most common form of plagiarism).
This form of research is often what helps me learn about a subject enough to write about it. Although some posts, like this blog post series, don’t require this step, in other articles it is critical.
The research takes another form while I am laying out the things I would like to say. Sometimes I know that something is true, but I don’t have the exact statistic to back it up. Without that statistic, the point I make could be debatable.
It is important to note that the form that this type of research takes is much different than the broad type of research I implemented in the pre-planning stage.
This is focused. I end up searching for a specific outcome/number, instead of integrating ones I find naturally.
Now that this step is complete, it is time to write!
Share with us! What goes into your pre-writing process? What works for you and what doesn’t? We would love to hear from you.