How to Create an Outline when Writing Online Content

Last Updated on December 20, 2019 by Michael Brockbank

Being able to write an amazing piece of content requires well-thought-out information. This is especially true when writing for clients on platforms like Textbroker. And writing an outline of that content is incredibly helpful. Let me show you how.

It’s really not all that difficult, and you may find your work more informative while taking less time to complete.

What is a Writing Outline?

Creating an outline is when you essentially map out an article with topics you want to convey. It gives you a chance to think about the information and highlight specific points.

Think of it as a way to organize your thoughts. This way, you avoid filling the content with randomness that isn’t relevant to the topic.

Personally, I’ll use header tags in my articles as a guide regarding what I want to share with the reader. I’ll show you a sample of my writing outline in a moment.

If you’d rather watch the video of this post…

How Does Having a Writing Outline Help?

While some authors will be able to simply start on a project without putting much thought into it, some of us do better with a plan of action.

I know I do. I found working for Textbroker clients much easier when I started planning out the content beforehand.

Some of the benefits of creating a writing outline include:

  • Reducing the Risk of Adding Filler
    When you have an idea of the content you want to write, you’re less worried about filling it up with irrelevant text. Simply write about each of the points you create.
  • Lets You Map Out the Article Evenly
    Creating a writing outline gives you a chance to deliver an even flow from one topic to another. This helps keep the reader’s attention while making you seem less “clutter minded.”
  • Gives You a Chance to Think About the Content and Plan Accordingly
    An outline gives you the ability to plan out what information is the most important and think about what your target audience wants to know in the piece.
  • Helps Your Remember Important Points
    One of the biggest reasons why I create outlines is to help me remember what information I want to share. Sometimes, I’ll forget vital bits until after I submit or hit the publish button.

When researching an article, or even keywords for that matter, I’ll add relevant points to the rough draft so I remember when writing. It only takes a few seconds and has vastly improved the content I turn in to clients.

5 Steps to Make a Writing Outline

OK, so now we know how it benefits you as a writer, let’s set up our outline format. And you can use this process for a wide variety of content types.

In some cases, I’ve even laid out news pieces in this style. Just make sure you follow the traditional “who, what, where, why and how.”

Once you get the hang of the process, it’s much easier.

1. Learn a Bit of HTML (Optional)

Depending on the circumstance, you might not need to learn HTML. However, a lot of clients prefer web coding so they can simply copy and paste it into their own website.

When creating a writing outline, there are only two types of HTML I focus on: headers and bullets lists.

A great place to see the hierarchy of header tags in HTML is W3Schools. It’s a free learning site for everyone from beginners to more advanced users.

Eventually, I’ll write an article about using “H” tags in content. But, W3Schools does a good job of helping you understand how they work in HTML.

The reason I use headers is to highlight the points I want to cover. Now, you don’t necessarily have to use headers. You can simply create notes in something like notepad like this:
Writing Outline Sample

In my personal outline example below, you’ll see what I mean.

2. Start with the Major Points

When creating your outline, start with the primary points first. What is the main focus of each section within the article?

Let’s say I am writing a 500-word article for a client about why WordPress is a great platform to use. It’s a short piece, so I only need a few major points.

My outline may look like this:
WordPress Example Outline

As you can see, I started my outline with the three major points that I want to discuss. These will set the tone for the information to follow.

3. Add Supporting Points to Each Major

So, what if you wanted to highlight points under each section? Depending on the content, it might not be necessary. However, it gives you a chance to point out the elements you want to include in the piece.

Taking the example from above, I might add sub-points to each section like this:

WordPress Outline Sample

Now, each of these sub-points in the outline can stand as subheaders (using H tags in HTML). Or, you can use them as a guide for what content you want to write in each paragraph.

This is completely up to you and how you want to write the piece. However, keep in mind that many clients, including those on Textbroker, like the parts separated with headers or using shorter paragraphs.

It simply makes reading content on a smartphone much easier.

You also don’t have to limit yourself to just three sub-points. This is merely an example. You can have more or less depending on the context of the topic.

4. Think About What You’re Adding

When creating your writing outline, take a moment to think about the piece and what you want to convey. By sitting back and looking at what you have already, you might decide to add or subtract content.

Don’t try to force more information. When you try to push content into a topic, it often comes across as disjointed or confusing.

In fact, some major points you want to use may stand alone on their own without having sub-points.

And sometimes while you write, you may think of things to add on-the-fly. So, don’t try to overthink when setting up your content outline.

5. Watch the Word Count (When Working for Certain Clients)

This is perhaps another optional step, but keep an eye on the length of your content. When working with Textbroker, you have a minimum and maximum word count. And I’ve heard of clients rejecting pieces that were beyond the maximum limit.

It’s never happened to me before, but I guess it’s possible. That’s what happens when you write for clients who are a bit on the anal side.

Personally, I would figure it was free content to make the piece longer. However, there are times when a client may need a shorter piece to fit a specific situation.

In any case, remember not to add too much, but make sure you’re adding high-quality information.
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My Writing Outline Example

What does it look like when I personally create a writing outline? Well, I use headers to separate everything. And if a client doesn’t want headers, I simply delete the HTML coding before submitting the piece.

Most of my clients, both private and on Textbroker, want HTML. So, that’s what I default to on every article.

Here is an example of a writing outline. In fact, it’s the outline for this specific article:

Writing Outline

As you can see, I start with the higher-tiered “H2” tags for headers. Each highlights a primary point for the section. Then, I add the “H3” tags for secondary points under the major “H2.”

In this example, I added the steps under the heading, “Steps to Make a Writing Outline.” I structure it this way because each step directly relates to the primary H2 topic.

Also, take note that I added a bullet list under the second section above. This is because the information I wanted to share didn’t necessarily need headers. It worked out better as a list.

Then, while I was writing this piece, I added a few more points that I wanted to highlight that were relevant to what I was sharing.

Such as the questions below.

When writing in this fashion, you need to be aware of the outline format and how you want it to appear. But once the points are all in place, like I have in this example, the content is much easier to put together.

Why don’t you use H1 in the article?

The H1 tag in HTML is usually reserved for the actual title of the article. In Textbroker, it’s the title field you fill out above the editing screen.

Since H1 is usually used by automated systems in this fashion, I don’t add them within the body of the article. In fact, no one should unless it’s the title of the piece.

Doesn’t this process slow you down, though?

In the beginning, it may seem like creating a writing outline can slow you down. After all, you’re spending a few minutes analyzing the flow of the content. However, you’ll find aspects of writing much faster since each topic has a specific point.

This means you’re spending less time trying to come up with the information while typing. Not to mention how you already have a basic layout of the text itself when thinking of points to add.

For me, outlining work has shaved a lot of time in the end because I can focus on one section at a time as I come across them.

Do you need to know HTML to create an outline?

As I stated above, you don’t necessarily need to know HTML to create a good writing outline. However, some clients will prefer each section in a header.

In other words, it would be extremely beneficial to at least learn how “H” tags work as well as setting up bullet lists. That way, you can please most clients you come across.

Just keep in mind that some clients will specifically request that you do not add HTML. So, pay close attention to client requests for articles.

Does this work for writing an eBook?

You can outline just about any kind of content, especially if you’re creative. However, I personally prefer to use mind mapping when planning out something major like an eBook.

That’s because mind mapping can help you explore a vast number of ideas in a visual way while greatly expanding what you can create.

It simply helps you explore an idea that has A LOT of different parts. Usually, eBooks are far, far larger than a simple 500-word article on Textbroker.

…But, It’s Still Up to You to Write

You can create a writing outline in a number of ways. I just find this method to be the easiest, especially when working with Textbroker clients or adding to my own blog.

How ever you decide to structure the piece, bear in mind it’s still up to you to write the content. I cannot guarantee your success; I can only show you what works best for me.

Good luck, and I hope you find a method that works best for you.

And please, don’t forget to like and share this post if you find it informative. It helps the blog grow…and motivates me to continue writing. 🙂

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Michael Brockbank

Michael has been a freelance writer since January of 2012. He has completed more than 8,000 jobs for a variety of clients ranging from animals to travel. Currently, he is the Content Marketing Team Lead of GreenGeeks Web Hosting.

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