If you’re staring at a blank screen, and unsure of what to write next, then you have a problem. It’s a big one—writer’s block.
Honestly, I don’t believe in it as a black magic occurrence. There is no voodoo or bad mojo that’s got you unsure of what to write today. It’s just a straightforward result of a broken writing system. Fortunately, writer’s block is avoidable.
You need to arm yourself with a solid plan of what you are going to write before you start clacking on that keyboard. Focus your topic, hammer in on a hook, list your points, and construct a blueprint for the article you are about to build.
If you jump into your writing without a strategy formed, then you risk writing a meandering mess. You’ll may end up spending valuable time rewriting, editing, and reworking that stew. Outlines quickly pull your ideas together. They save you time and allow you to target your writing results. With an outline in hand, you’ll reliably draft a quality, well thought out blog post.
In this article, we review the pros and cons of outlining, before walking through each component of creating a formidable outline, then provide you with a real outline example you can deconstruct, and leave you with all the tools you’ll need to craft compelling blog post outlines—adding this ammunition to your blog writing system.
First let’s look at skipping outlines altogether.
Why do people write without outlines?
Who are these non-outlining neanderthals? Well I’m one of them on occasion. While I outline most of my blog posts, I don’t outline all of them. Every strategy has it’s merits and drawbacks.
Reasons to write without a solid outline:
- It’s simple. If you have a simple idea for a post, it may not demand outlining, planning, and development. You may simply have some quick news to share or a question you want to pose to your audience.
- It’s quick. When you have an idea burning in your brain, you just need to write it down. There is a certain energy with jumping straight into writing when you have a powerful idea. Immediacy is attractive. If I have an idea burning like this, I open up my journal and capture it there.
- It’s formed. There are times that you just have a plan worked out in your mind, without formally writing it down. This is like a mental outline. But be careful here, as this is often a recipe for loosing a thread, as you try to work it out too much in your head, rather than getting those main points written down as you go through the process of developing an idea.
There are serious, potential drawbacks to not outlining, but you can use good judgement. Determine when jumping into writing without an outline is worth the risk of having to spend time editing issues out later.
Outlining is a writing process that works, it’s reliable, whereas your ability to kick out stream of consciousness gold is not something you can rely on day in and day out.
Benefits of Outlining Your Blog Posts
Professional bloggers outline most of their posts. It’s one of the writing systems they rely on to churn out quality articles, reliably, and at a fast rate.
There are a few compelling reasons to outline your blog posts:
- Saves you time. Outlines are a quick way to pinpoint the main points you’ll make in an article and form a top level strategy. If you start with a solid plan, you’ll write with clarity, which will save you editing and rewriting time compared to a disorganized approach.
- Eliminate writer’s block. An outline is literally a plan of what you will write. With this in hand, there is no struggle for ideas. The big ideas are already there, broken down into manageable chunks to tackle. It helps smooth the process of getting relevant words flowing.
- Think it through. Well thought out posts are more powerful. They counter the counterpoints, have a logical flow to their narrative, and make meaningful connections. As you develop your outline, you think through how your post will piece together into a cohesive argument. You look closely at the information you need to research and plan the points your post will focus on.
Learning how to write a blog post outline is a skill worth putting time into mastering.
How to Create a Formidable Outline
Outlining is a fairly simple process. Of course, the more complex the subject and the longer the piece, the more you’ll need to develop your outline. Let’s leave aside planning series, ebooks, or courses for now, and just focus on how to outline a blog post article.
1. Choose a Topic
What topic will you write about?
Ideally, you know your blog audience well. You have a vivid understanding of the problems they face and are armed with ideas about how to solve those problems. If you capture your ideas in a master list, then you have a well of topics to choose from.
Pick a topic that feels compelling to you, that you know will resonate with your audience, and that you are excited to write about.
Write the topic down, break the perfect white of the page, and get some text moving.
2. Identify Your Target Audience
The audience you’re writing to will make a tremendous difference in the approach you take to your blog post. Who is your reader? Who are you writing this specific blog post for?
Identify the target audience for this article with as much specificity as possible. They are the focus of the topic you’ll write this blog post on. Literally write down who they are, as they may be a segment of your overall blog audience.
3. Ask a Question
Take this general topic and turn it into a question. Your blog post will answer this query. Get your brain working: your mind will engage with this conundrum, your creativity will kick in, and you’ll start turning solutions to the problem over in your mind.
Write down the problem—summarizing it; then write down the solution with your target reader in mind. This is the focus of your article.
4. Write a Hook
Now pull that topic like taffy, stretch it, and look for unique angles into it. Consider where the energy is. Look for the most compelling aspect of this problem. Find a unique perspective that feels gripping. Hone in on this one clear message that you want to convey to your readers. Now use this as the starting point for your blog article to craft a powerful introduction.
Hooks are what you put on your fishing line, the wiry barb that will sink into your reader’s mouth. Consider how you can surprise, interest, and grab the attention of your reader, then drive them to read deeper into your blog post.
It could be a compelling story, a shocking statistic, or another opening copywriting technique that pulls at the mind and emotions of your audience.
5. Create a Headline
A headline takes your topic, the meaningful message you are focusing on, and concentrates it. This title turns your ideas from excited atoms into a laser focused beam.
They have to stand out in search engines and compete for clicks in feed readers. They must grab attention and pull a reader into your post.
Focus your topic and turn your hook into a bold headline. Make your title a compelling point of entry for your readers. Imagine your title on the cover of a magazine. What would make the reader pick up that magazine, and jump from the cover into that article?
I often write down multiple options for my blog post titles. Sometimes the perfect headline comes early in the process, at other times it requires exploring many options until arriving at just the right one.
Your title is the most important line you’ll write for your blog post; spend the time needed to nail it.
6. List Your Main Points
The more you write, the more you’ll get a sense of various article structures. This will inform the number of points and structure of your outline. With format in mind, write down your initial ideas.
At first just get these out. They may be a list of possible points to make in the article. If you’re writing a basic opinion-based blog post, then making three relevant points may be all that’s needed.
List each section you’ll cover, write the heading titles for each section, and describe the main points and important sub-points you’ll make in each section. This will form the meat of your blog post.
7. Craft Your Conclusion
Your conclusion is as important as your hook. This is where you tie together the threads of your article’s argument and inspire your reader to take action.
There are many ways to conclude a post, but the tactic I often take is to focus on inspiring the reader to put to use what they’ve learned in the post. Often this also involves encouraging them to leave results or interact with your post in some meaningful way as well.
If a reader walks away with a strong motivation to put to use what you’ve just taught, then your conclusion is on target—even better, they take immediate action.
8. Jot Down Notes, Resources, and Refine Your Outline
Develop your thoughts. Take your list of ideas and place them in a logical order that will flow well in your post.
Make note of any counter arguments that you should consider or any background information you should cover. Brainstorm ideas that might strengthen your argument or read with greater resonance. Consider questions your audience might have.
Jot down any additional areas you may need to research, such as: reference additional resources, pull together third-party data, gather interesting visuals, quote a professional, or interview an expert.
Keep in mind outlining is the preparation phase for writing your blog post, so if you’re going to do keyword research for this article, then add that information to your post plan as well. Capture all of it in a document and get it ready to write.
9. If Needed, Rework Your Outline
Keep in mind, much of this is a fluid process.
You may find yourself listing points well before developing a hook, or a remarkable headline may be the first thing that jumps out at you when you start considering the topic. It really doesn’t matter the order here; just jump in. Make notes, work on forming the plan for your article, and allow for it to develop.
You may find that some points are off as your overall plan comes into focus. Shape it as you polish your thoughts. Rework your outline as needed until it feels sharp.
It’s all well and good to explain the strategy of how to write an article outline, but a real example will give you a better feel for how to put theory into action.
Here’s the format I use for article outlines:
- Target Audience
- List of Main Points
- Resources (Optional)
- Keyword Research (Optional)
- Notes (Optional)
Here is an example of how I outlined a blog post about how I escaped the cubicle and started working online:
Title: “Top 5 Reasons to Quit the Cubicle and Work from the Beach”
Target Audience: Those considering leaving their job and are dreaming of starting an online business.
Problem: Wage slavery is not fun. Working a job you don’t love, or even enjoy, is soul crushing. It’s difficult to plan a pathway out of it. And scary to consider a clean break or drop in income.
Solution: Quit your job, work online, and build a business around your passion. Design a job you enjoy that fits the lifestyle you want.
Hook: Tap into the fear of being trapped in a dead end job. I’ve been there. I’ve felt that way. Give real examples of shitty jobs I’ve had and then lead the reader out. Open up the idea of another path—one sunny and waiting to be discovered if they escape the cubicle. It offers greater freedom and opportunity for them in the long term.
- Fluorescent Light Just Isn’t Sunlight. I remember feeling the drone of florescent light, it actually makes this annoying hum of a sound. It’s not natural. It doesn’t fill you with energy and vitality. You can give your life to the thirteenth floor of a corporation or take control of your life and live passionately. Talk about living life and making a business that works for you. Tell story of my big move, quitting my job, giving away all my possessions, and moving to Venezuela.
- The Beer is Cheaper in South America. If you reduce the cost of your lifestyle, you can get by with less, and have more freedom. Make a jump into doing something that you love. Talk about affordability of making the change and value in a reduced cost lifestyle.
- Beach Sand Feels Better than Office Carpeting. Talk about how stifling a job that you don’t enjoy is. Mention that you can choose another path, carve out your own way forward, design your own business. Tell how I overcame depression and lived healthier on a South American beach. Empower the reader to make a change.
- You’d Rather Listen to Beachfront-Blue Waves Crash. Rather than the morning meeting, the droning client call, or your boss giving you yet another task you don’t want to do, instead listen to waves crash. Tell flashback of bad office memories, overcoming them, and putting them in the rearview.
- It’s Just More Fun at the Beach. Why do companies have casual Fridays? It’s more fun for the worker bees. You get to dress like yourself for one day out of the week. Wouldn’t you rather just be yourself everyday. Tell story of how I built a freelance business as a graphic and web designer. Then became a blogger. You can craft a new career or launch a thriving business you care about from anywhere. I did it from a beach town in Venezuela.
Conclusion: Pull the literal story of moving to a South American beach to start an online business into a metaphor for working from anywhere. Ask the reader where their beach is? It may just be a cabin deep in the woods or a condo in downtown Tokyo. Really, it’s their ideal lifestyle and business, crafted to meet their needs. Reach out to the reader to get them to share their story of getting started down this path.
In addition to the outline above, I placed a few notes as well into the article plan, but I didn’t have outside resources or do any keyword research for this particular post. Every article is unique and the level of pre-planning will vary.
Few outlines come out perfectly. They are often more of a rough draft plan. You may discover a more interesting path to pursue than your original plan once you get into it. Even blueprints get revised throughout the course of constructing a building.
Writing is a fluid process, but an outline gives you a solid point to start working from.
Outlining in Advance
Outlining is a basic process of planning any content you are creating. Whether you are planning the audio to a video course you’re about to shoot, or looking to write your next ebook, an outline will help you.
Outlining is a skill that will improve your writing results. It gives you a clear plan of attack. With outline in hand, you’re ready to jump into creative flow and write your first draft.
Or hold onto that outline and tackle the first draft anytime. Outlining the ideas you have, arms you with a stockpile of article ammunition.
By outlining and planning blog posts well in advance, it develops your ideas into a ready to write resource. It allows you the time you need to improve your post ideas, as you come across new information. It gives you the space to think through details and develop clarity.
Taking your reservoir of writing ideas, formatting them into well-planned outlines, gives you a tappable resource that will have you—unblocked—and writing powerful content on a regular basis.