I started my career as a tech writer for a large software firm. It was an amazing experience for a young 22-year old. I witnessed a well-oiled machine produce hardware and software user documentation. Over 300 writers, editors, graphic designers, and oh yeah, um typesetters, worked to ensure that massive documentation sets were written with one voice, tone, and style. How? By starting with an outline.
Improve Your Skills
Perhaps the skill I rely on the most from those early days is outlining. Nothing was written back then without first having an outline that was vetted by the writing supervisor and then the technical team leader.
During my years as a manager hiring content writers, a standard interview question I used was about the candidate’s process for creating content. If the answer was vague or “I organize it in my head and write as I go along.” it was a red flag.
An outline forces a thorough thought process that continues to serve me well today. Sound too old fashioned or too constraining? For me, it actually fires up the creative juices.
Back to Basics
Whenever I am stuck and ideas aren’t flowing smoothly, I go back to basics:
- What is the topic?
- What are the main ideas?
- Is there a logical order to the ideas?
- What points provide supporting data?
- Is there an obvious conclusion or information summary?
One of the best things about outlining skills is that they are transferrable to other tasks and situations. For example, when I create a budget I use the same hierarchy of thought. I use it when creating presentations, making decisions, and developing marketing plans.
Give it a try. Could an outline be the one breakthrough activity you need to get moving? Let’s talk about your marketing content strategy in a Borrow My Brains session. Schedule one now.