Thoughts for the Month: From Outline to Final Draft

Last month I wrote about mind mapping: a method of brainstorming that is often helpful in identifying a topic and defining a topic to write about.

Do you have your topic?

I have also chosen a topic–I thought it would be preferable if I refer to a specific example rather than speak in the abstract as I demonstrate an approach to beginning drafting an article or essay. 

My topic is Digital Organizing (this will really be the topic of next month’s Thoughts for the Month).

I know many of you are not new to writing and may be resistant to reading a blog post that appears to be speaking to beginners or assumes that people who visit my site don’t know the basics of writing. Before you all take offense, please consider that some visitors to a writer/editor’s website may, in fact, not be highly trained writers, and they may or may not be interested in refining their skills. For some who would like to be more attentive writers, if business as usual has been disrupted by the coronavirus, this may be an opportune time to revise your website or write the newsletter that you have wanted to begin.

Some of my readers are also educators or students, so I will be addressing outlining and revision processes in a way that is applicable to writing for either the internet or academic settings (or specify which is which).

The inspiration for this post actually stems from my own process as a writer (and somewhat from what I have frequently observed in student papers). 

I never used to write from an outline. I found them restricting, overly formal, and stifling to the creative process. I still don’t always write an official outline before a first draft, but I have begun to at least mentally following a set of guidelines to keep my writing focused–and I must admit, my readability is often improved. 

Typically, as taught in most composition courses, the first step in the outline process is to identify a thesis statement (academic or essay-style writing). If you are writing a blog post you will want a clear CTA, or Call to Action, especially for sales or public awareness blogs. These should be 1 sentence statements, and they are the focusing reason for why you are writing something to be read in the first place. 

Although a thesis and a CTA should be identified before fleshing out the remainder of the essay, they are not necessarily the first sentence. Typically, a thesis statement is required as the last sentence of the first paragraph (less frequently, it may appear in the last paragraph). A CTA is often toward the end of a blog post–maybe the last sentence.

Since this article is an overview, I’m not going to discuss crafting a CTA or a thesis statement in much detail–there are plenty of resources (including those linked) demonstrating these techniques. I’m demonstrating the outline and revision process, since I’m outlining a blog post, I’ll start with a CTA. 

As I said earlier in this post, my topic is digital organization, and now that I have a simple CTA, I can begin my outline:

Writing the Blog Post Outline

  • CTA: Let’s get organized!
  • Introduction: The clutter of years of paper accumulations.
  • Paragraph 1: Digital organization apps. Are they a solution for you?
  • Paragraph 2: Choosing from the array of available organization apps
  • Paragraph 3: My favorites, Evernote, Asana, Dropbox, Trello, and Google Drive.
  • Paragraph 4: Approaching the challenge/integrating new habits.
  • Paragraph 5: Results!
  • Conclusion–my conclusion is my CTA.

With the above outline, I can keep myself on track and not diverge into a subtopic like, say, the relaxation app that I found while I was searching for organization apps (but I may or may not flag that as a topic for a later post if it is something along the lines of what I would write about).

The Revision Process

From my outline above, I’ll be able to write a clear and focused first draft, but I will still want to check myself with a revision and self-edit.

When I revise a first draft I look specifically at my paragraphs, ensuring that each has a focusing topic sentence (such as those in the outline) and that each subsequent sentence is on-topic according to that first sentence. The final sentence of each paragraph should be written as a transition statement from one topic to the next.

This phase will be more complex with a 15-page term paper than it is with a 500-word blog post. When approaching research papers, I often advise directing considerable attention to paragraphing. In the paragraph margins, I notate the main points of each sentence to provide myself with a visual of where I might be drifting off-topic and how I need to reorganize. I also reread the first and last paragraphs to be sure that my introduction and conclusion are aligned.

Getting to Final Draft

Once I have followed the steps above, I should almost be ready to publish my post  (or turn in my paper). But first–a little attention to self-editing can go a long way. Or perhaps I should say, leave more time for editing than you think you will need. If you are able (some classes require this)–grab a partner for peer-review editing. Read, Write, Think provides an effective self and peer-review editing checklist.

Now that we’ve gone from brainstorming to final draft, we’re probably ready to figure out how to file all of the research material that resulted from this process. Fortunately, as you know, next month’s post addresses digital organizing.

See you then!

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