How to outline your blog posts the smart way
In this post, I’ll step you through how to outline a blog post before you start writing to help you:
- structure your thoughts clearly
- know exactly what you want to say
- save time during the writing and editing process.
Before you start writing your blog post, think about your key message and your target reader. By focusing on your target audience, it will be even easier to structure your post.
Answer the questions below as comprehensively as you can. You don’t have to fill them out in the order listed here. For example, you might want to wait to name your blog title after you’ve written your post and that’s perfectly OK.
Step 1: Nail your audience and your intentions
What is your blog post topic?
What’s the subject of your blog post? What’s your blog post about?
Jot down some dot points to summarise your topic.
What type of post will it be?
Decide what type of blog post you want to write. Here are some ideas:
- informative – imparting your wisdom
- news – writing about what’s new in your niche or industry
- instructional – a ‘how to’ guide like this one
- personal spotlight – a personal story to share about you or your business
- editorial – giving your opinion on a current hot topic in your niche or industry
- entertaining – something light, just for fun
- resource list – detailing a list of awesome resources relevant to your industry or niche
- review – a product or service review
- controversial – do you dare go there?
- interview – write up of an interview you do with an interesting person in your industry or niche
- case study – show what you did and how it worked for you
- rant – get those cranky pants on and start writing your venomous thoughts
- inspirational – something that will inspire others to take action.
This is just a handful of different types of blog posts you could write. But know your purpose up front and it will make the writing process much smoother.
What sort of style will it be?
What kind of emotion do you want to inject into your blog post? How do you want to come across to your readers?
There is a wide spectrum of styles to choose from. Keep one in mind. It will help set the tone of your writing.
Who is your target audience?
Who is your ideal reader for this post?
Include their demographic profile. Be super-specific and focused.
Are you writing for 40-50-year-old men from Sydney’s southern suburbs who want to take control of their finances? Or are you writing for 50+ women from Australia who are into climbing mountains and bagging peaks?
What do they like? What fires them up? What are their values? What’s important to them?
Once you know the answers, you’ll have a clear picture of who your ideal reader is, and it will be much easier to write well for them.
What is your key message?
If your reader only takes one thing away from your blog post, what’s that important message?
How will this post benefit your ideal reader?
What are your secondary messages?
What are the other key messages you’d like your reader to take away?
Why should your reader grant you several minutes of their time to read your post?
Is your post a part of a blog series?
If so, what is the theme?
A theme isn’t necessary, but if you find yourself writing several posts about a similar topic, you have a theme emerging.
A blog series can help set reader expectations for the sort of content you’ll regularly publish and can build your authority in a niche.
You can also cross link your posts, which will send an important signal to search engines that your content is related and you’re an authority on this topic.
What are your research sources?
What research will you do? What websites will you visit to gather facts or draw inspiration? What websites will you link to?
List the links for your sources of inspiration and note which sites you’ll link to from your blog post.
How many words will you aim for?
There is no right or wrong length for a blog post. It needs to be as long as it needs to be. Never add ‘fluff’ to pad out your word count.
As a benchmark, there are about 300 words per A4 page.
Knowing how long you expect your post to be will help schedule your time to write your post. Some of the posts I write are EPIC and take many hours over several days to write. Others are short and easy to write in an hour or two.
Step 2: Draft your blog outline
Now that you’ve done the background work – and this work will apply beyond this one blog post so it’s worth the time investment – create an outline for your blog post.
You can create your outline wherever you like. You can use Google Docs or MS Word, jot things down in a notebook, write directly in your website’s CMS. Whatever works best for you.
What is your blog post title?
What are you going to call your blog post? What title captures your topic?
If you’re stuck coming up with a good title, see the free browser plugin Headlinr. It will give you dozens of headline suggestions, but avoid the ones that sound like ‘clickbait’ (e.g. How one writer sold 10,000 books in an hour. You’ll never guess what she did!) No one likes to be duped into clicking on a link to a blog post only to have the content not match the headline or be not worth the time spent clicking.
You might not have the perfect title right now, but you can come back to your title after you finish writing your post.
Outline your introduction
Your introduction is going to feature your key message, that one key thing that you hope everyone reading your blog will take away. If you’ve nailed your key takeaway, you’ve nailed your intro.
Outline your key points for the main body of your blog post
For each of your key points, jot down notes in dot point form that outlines what your secondary messages are and what you have to say about them.
Your key points are likely to be Heading 2s in your blog post and those dot points you write will be expanded into paragraphs under the headings. You can delve even deeper and come up with Heading 3s and even Heading 4s if it suits your blog style.
Refer to the notes you wrote under ‘What is your blog topic?’ Expand on these a little more.
Research your topic if you need to and add snippets of information to your outline.
Outline your conclusion
Where do you want to direct the reader? What is their journey?
In most situations, your conclusion should reinforce your key message.
Think about how you can re-state your key message without duplicating your introduction. Bring a fresh angle to it but without adding new information you haven’t expanded upon in the main body of your blog post.
Review your structure
Once you’ve outlined your blog post, review its structure.
Are the headings in a logical order?
Do your points flow well from one to the next?
Shift things around until the structure is the most logical it can be. You should start to see the connections between your thoughts.
Step 3: Don’t start writing… yet
By creating a clear roadmap, the task of writing your blog post should be so much easier and faster.
Your subconscious mind will ponder your blog post behind the scenes. I recommend writing your outline and leaving it for a day (if you’re not on a strict ‘people will die’ deadline) and come back to it refreshed. You’ll notice things you didn’t before and add another level of richness to your work.
Restructure your post, if necessary, and then get writing.
Outliner vs pantser
I’d love to know if you’re a blog outliner or a pantser? I’m a mix of both. For me, it depends on the topic. But even the simplest of blog posts benefit from doing a brain dump and creating an outline before I start writing.
Let me know in the comments how outlining affects your writing.
Also published on Medium.