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Dreading the Writing Assignment? Outlines to the Rescue

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Christine Taylor is president of Keyword Copywriting, which helps marketing and PR pros leverage their relationships with technology clients. E-mail her at www.keywordcopy.com (link dead, sorry) , call her at 760-249-6071, or check out Keyword's Website at www.keywordcopy.com (link dead, sorry) .

Writing technical articles is a challenge. There you sit, surrounded by reams of research, notes and interviews. Where do you start?

Remember 5th grade English? You start with an outline.

Outlining has fallen on hard times lately. Mind mapping and brainstorming are much more fashionable. These techniques are great when generating ideas, but once you've got your ideas germinating you've got to outline them. Without an outline, your article will:

  1. Be an unstructured mess.
  2. Take three times as long to write.



Don't let this happen to your outline. If it's been a while since 5th grade - or if your "progressive" school didn't stoop to teach you actual English skills - let me remind you why it's important and how to do it.

Outlining keeps you from writing an unstructured mess. Readers, especially American readers, prefer distinct sections in their media. For example, look at American screenplays. Movies invariably have three acts, and anything that doesn't have them is considered an art film. Effective speeches often contain three parts, and readers like three points because the structure makes easier to retain information.

Outlining shrinks your writing time by a third to a half. How do you whittle down that pile of research notes and interviews into an article or white paper? You guessed it - outline it. By assigning sections to your notes before you start writing, you'll categorize, simplify and clarify. Not bad before you've even written an introduction. For example, let's say you're writing an article about mirroring. You can divide such an article into several different sections depending on what your client wants to get across. Here are some examples of different outlines:

  1. ) Explanation of mirroring
  2. ) Differences between local and remote mirroring,
  3. ) Contrasting mirroring with other forms of replication

or,

  1. ) Define mirroring
  2. ) List environments that require mirroring
  3. ) Decision matrix for assigning different mirroring levels.


Once you've done your research it's simple to assign pieces to different sections. Believe me, it'll light a fire under your writing time.



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Let us change our traditional attitude to the construction of programs: Instead of imagining that our main task is to instruct a computer what to do, let us concentrate rather on explaining to human beings what we want a computer to do. (Donald Knuth)

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