Why You Should Always Build an Outline Before Writing

I know what you did.

I know you wrote that thing without starting with an outline.

Even if you know your subject matter forward and backward, hand and foot, tooth-by-tooth, there are few excuses for not writing an outline.

Even if you can write a good article without an outline, a good article isn’t the same as your best.

I’m a firm believer in writing outlines (even if it’s just a basic one) before jumping into a writing project. Outlines foster clarity, directness, efficiency, and cohesiveness. They reflect positively on you as a professional who takes a systematic, calculated approach to creating a well-crafted written text.

Granted, I’m not much of a feature writer, so I can’t really advise as to the best way to write for that type of media. But when it comes to writing for business, I can say without reservation that outlines make better writing.

You’re better off starting with an outline. Here’s why:

1. Outlines help you organize your ideas and research

When writing, it’s not like you’re just transcribing a mental document onto your computer—instead you’re taking raw materials and formulating them into a new whole. Building a framework (an outline) first can help you avoid some of the following issues:

  • Excessively long introductions while you talk yourself through an idea
  • Insufficient focus on a certain aspect of your topic because you’re too tired from writing your excessive introduction
  • Disconnected orphan paragraphs that you added in because it sounded right at the time

Writing outlines helps you draw or strengthen neural connections that will better connect your ideas so you’re better equipped to write a cohesive treatise on the topic at hand.

2. Outlines can help you save time when working with clients

Which is faster—revising an outline or revising a finished draft?

Something I’ve done with clients before is take an initial conversation we’ve had and create an outline from my notes. Then I send them that outline to ensure I didn’t leave anything out. Whenever I’ve done this, the client has been appreciative and given good recommendations.

Maybe your clients aren’t interested in giving you this sort of feedback. Nevertheless, outlines can help reduce the amount of time you spend in revisions because you will start off with a vision of the finished whole before you start.

3. Outlines help you write faster

As I write this post, I’ve continuously referred to my outline above to keep me on track. I think one of the biggest wastes of time when writing is when you have to ask yourself, “Okay, what next?” without having a clear point of reference to look to. Especially if you’re writing in multiple sittings—without an outline, you’ll be starting from scratch every time you come back to the writing desk.

Outlines are short enough that when you write them, it’s easy to conceive in which order your supporting sections should go. That is not so easy when you are writing a full-length text.

Writing an outline takes some time, so you might fool yourself into thinking you don’t have time for an outline. I would argue that you don’t have time to not write an outline, because in the end you’ll save time.

Even if you’re very familiar with a topic, don’t ignore the outline. Use that familiarity to your advantage when creating the outline, which will in turn increase the efficiency of your writing.

4. Outlines help you write clearer, more cohesive texts

A cohesive text is characterized by the rhetorical agreement between the components of a text—in other words, readers can understand why you’re talking about both point A and point B in the same text.

Because an outline by nature forces you to structure your thoughts into a clear taxonomy, you will have to assess how each bit of information fits into the framework. This in turn helps you assimilate concepts into a mental framework, which improves your writing.

5. Outlines help you cut out the clutter

Writing a text without an outline is like driving with Grandpa who refuses to ask for directions. You might get where you need to go, but you’ll waste time, gas, and patience getting there. In the meantime, you’ll find yourself getting an earful of stories and facts, some relevant, some not.

Such is a text without an outline—full of side roads, tangents and non sequiturs. When you know where you’re going before you get behind the wheel, you can more easily cut out the unnecessary signposting and explanations to lean up your writing.

I’m planning on experimenting some more with outlines, to see how some additional planning can improve writing time. One thing I’m interested in trying is seeing if setting a target post length and then percentage word counts for each section would be beneficial. I’ll keep you in the loop.

Comment below if you agree or disagree. Especially if you disagree—I want to hear your thoughts.

About Jack Vawdrey

Jack is a combo freelance and in-house writer, dedicated to all things automation, particularly in the freelance writing world. Jack founded Writing Grid to help other freelancers increase productivity and succeed as self-employed writers. Is this working for me?

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