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Do you Write Outlines for Your Blog Posts?

Do you plan your posts or do you just write them free flow as they come?

This is a question that one of our members at ProBlogger.com (Mark Dykeman) started off a conversation with in the last week.

Mark talked in the thread about how he does both (sometimes he uses bullet points for his main points and then writes on each point while other times it just comes) – but I thought it’d be an interesting question to open up to everyone.

What’s your approach?

My own approach is mixed and sometimes starts with one approach and ends up as the other but in general the way I work depends upon the type of post:

Pillar Content – in most cases if I’m setting out to write what I refer to as ‘pillar content’ (or a big post that is on a central theme of my blog) I generally like to have some kind of plan before I start. Like Mark I’ll usually start out with a list of points that I want to cover that I’ve brainstormed (and perhaps a quick note or two on each). Then I work systematically through the points one by one and write a paragraph or two on each.

Other Posts – other posts that are not quite as structure in their form tend to be written in a more freely written way. For example if news breaks on something relevant to my niche I will generally bounce off a press release or another blogger with a few of my own thoughts. If the post is like this one and is more of a ‘reader question’ type posts I again will usually write it without a formal outline.

I should say that often my posts are a bit of both. Sometimes I’ll be halfway through writing a free flow/non outline post and I’ll suddenly be hit with inspiration for about 5 other things that I’ll want to say in the post. I generally stop writing at this point and capture the points that I want to cover and in doing so write a bit of an outline for the rest of the post before coming back to where I was.

Other times I might be writing a post that I’ve got an outline for and the post will evolve in a direction that makes a lot of the points I’ve outlined irrelevant and I’ll scrap them (or at least put them aside for a future post).

What about you?

Are you someone who plans posts in detail? Or do you write best when you’re writing in a more freely flowing style?

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Asif says:

    I also use list posts on my blog, they are easy to track etc.
    But, It really doesn’t matter at all.
    Your Posts has to be good and enjoyable. No Matter they are being written by Steve Pavlina or Seth Godin

  2. This is interesting to read – I have a new bog but have a few articles written. I’m a good essay writer and tend to use similar techniques to write blog posts. I have evernote on my mac to which I add subjects when they come to me, then when I am writing one I make an outline of the topic first, jot down research, filter what I do/don’t want to use etc then tidy it up and write it down.

  3. Ralph says:

    With me it depends. I think my posts would probably be better with a structure before hand but I generally have one point per post and it isn’t too hard to keep that straight. When I have more complex issues to cover, I break up the posts.

  4. Shawanda says:

    Occasionally, I’ll draft a blog post by hand before writing it on my blog. This is hardly an outline, but I type way faster than I can write by hand. I feel like my brain can take its time and come up with more entertaining and informative content. Even after all that, the handwritten version of a blog post looks almost nothing like the final product.

  5. How does forwarding all of my tweets to my FB fanpage work with your suggestion of a few weeks ago that only about 10% of one’s tweets should be self-promotional? Does this mean that it’s ok to put a tweet about something else I want to share (like a new article about the space program, one of my other interests) on my Fan Page?

  6. Justin says:

    One essential skill that every blogger needs to learn is the ability to hit the “Publish” button without hesitation. The beauty of a blog is that it is constantly updating and almost flows from the primal consciousness. Every blogger needs to learn how to balance the quality of posts with the naturalness of posts. I personally quickly formulate an idea or a “thesis” in my head, and then simply allow my thoughts to rush through my fingers as I type.

    Thanks,
    Justin
    http://TheWebExperiment.com/

  7. Siraj says:

    As I write about technology, VoIP and other information technology related post, I prefer to note my points first then write the whole article, and finally edit and edit and edit. Even sometimes after I publish the post. But I like free flow. I take notes of points not to miss any and to make it easier for the readers, as most of my readers are non-technical.

  8. I usually include a list important points in my posts, so I start there. I then built the rest of my content upon these supporting points.

  9. TheTrotsky says:

    I find drawing a mind map a really good way to think out my blog posts prior to sitting down to write them. I used to use a writing journal where I’d pen bullet points of articles but recently I invested in a smartphone and wanted to try and go paperless…

    I found that while making bullet lists on my phone was possible it seemed “not quite right” as I could have taken paper-based notes much quicker. Then I stumbled upon a mind mapping tool for Android (I’m sure there are plenty for all other smartphones too) and I knew that this was what I was looking for!

    Now I can interlink all my ideas for posts quickly in a mind map while on the go and then later convert them into posts.

  10. Creating “pillar content” definitely plays a big role on attracting loyal readers, having a proper plan on writing makes you at ease on writing good content

  11. Shaun says:

    Funny you should ask that because I was just thinking about this myself. I have been outlining roughly what I want to say on each page, but I was contemplating just starting write and figure out where it gets me.

    The next time I just have an “aha” moment I am going to start writing without it and see what happens, kind of like an experiment.

  12. Both ways for me. I write free flow if I’m sharing an experince of a particular tactic or method and organised, planned if I am writing a theory type.

    Andrew

  13. it depend on my moods, but usuallay i post longer articles on the weekend :)

  14. Fiona Fell says:

    I tend to free flow my writing.

    It only comes in bursts, so I have to get it out while it is coming.

    I hack it to pieces later to ensure it makes sense to the other folks who will reading it. (And to cut out the fluff)

  15. I hope you did not prepare an outline for this post, Darren ;)

  16. Hmmmm… yes… and no. It really does depend on the type of post and topic it’s about. If I’m having a chat with readers about what is going on in my life, that’s very laid back and unplanned.

    I’m currently doing a three-part series (third part tomorrow, to give an idea). Because each part focuses on a different aspect, yes, there is a need to plan and outline it. Also, because I needed to gather up certain resources and photograph examples, this required me to have a plan of sorts. I needed to know what I planned to write about, so I could plan for the photos, if that makes sense!

    I must admit, whilst I do plan my topics a week ahead (and occassionally throw in an unplanned one into the mix), I do feel that I want to focus more on how I feel it is important to structure my posts/articles. I am conscious to an extent now, and planning it somewhat, but it’s an area I want to grow in.

  17. Mark Dykeman says:

    Darren: thanks for pointing out my conversation thread in the Problogger.com forums. There’s no doubt that this method (using an outline) works for some writers; others will find it restrictive.

    I believe that outlining may be better for “how to” posts, which is what a lot of blog posts wind up being due to the teaching/coaching nature of many blogs. At the same time, I firmly believe it’s still possible to find golden material by “just writing” and seeing what develops. As with anything, results will vary depending on what you wish to achieve.

    Good conversation, everyone!

  18. Ryan says:

    Usually I’m freely flowing. Occasionally I’ll write an outline. I receive an idea and start to write immediately. If I feel the urge to think in detail I’ll list topics and work from there. It’s all predicated by my intuition.

  19. That’s a good effort you have put on the network through your blog. I suspect that more that bloggers who have greater success than I do probably plan their outlines in great detail. I will be interested in hearing what others have to say. I appriciate your work.

  20. I generally use a more free flowing style and find that ideas for other posts I have in draft sometimes come to my mind. At that time I write down those ideas in point from for further elaboration when I go to work on the posts in draft.

  21. Yoli says:

    I do a bit of both type of posts in my blog. However it also depends on my mood, at times !

  22. Thanks, for the post. It’s really made me think about my process. I usually come up with an outline in my head, and then sit down and write free-flow. The tip about listing your bullet points and writing around that is helpful

  23. Every once in a great while, I’ll attempt an outline. What generally happens is my post seems flat to me because I have already worked it out. The shark has been jumped and I’m bored with it before I actually write it.

    I’m a free flowing kinda guy myself.

    Thanks for the post.

  24. work at home says:

    When I get something new and great information within my blog niche, then I study about it, is it helpful for my reader or not. If fine then I try to write the article by putting my own view.

  25. Barbsawyers says:

    I use an outlines for writing longer, more complex pieces but not usually for blog posts. However, I do think before I start to write, usually covering
    1. a brief summary of the point I want to make
    2. what readers will be interested in
    3. how to best approach my subject, i.e. tips, how-to-steps, logical argument, emotional story.

    The time spent thinking is always made up through easier, faster writingand the ability to write freely without getting lost.

    It’s looking at a map before you head out.

  26. Arthur Kay says:

    Generally speaking, I’ll sit down to write a post in its entirety, save it as a draft, and review it a day or so later before posting it. It’s worth mentioning that many of my posts aren’t longer than 500 words, so the topics don’t really require much planning.

    That being said, the handful of posts I’ve written which involve multi-part posts (e.g. tutorials) do require creating an outline. I find that longer posts benefit from outline planning – so the type of post dictates how much planning I put into it.

  27. Matthew says:

    I use this free program called Stickies (http://www.zhornsoftware.co.uk/stickies/), basically you can make bullet lists…check lists or simply have virtual stickies around your desktop which I find very useful to jot down any quick idea that comes to me before I forget it =).

  28. Jim says:

    It depends on what the subject is, but most of the time I do my writing in free flow style, since a lot of it is more ‘current events’ than informational.

    However when I write an informational post, it usually has a basic outline and is part of a bigger picture which is documented ahead of time.

  29. Hey Darren:

    I do what works for me the best: variety.

    Sometimes I free flow; sometimes I have to make some sort of plan. Yet, I rarely go into a detailed plan.

    Most of the ideas that I have in my head are not crystallized yet. They are all jumbled up. So I have to get them out of there first to actually realize what I want to actually say.

    Sometimes, I find myself coming to different conclusions that I thought after writing an article.

    After I get all of the thoughts out of my head, I then try to get them all together in some sort of organized fashion by grouping similar ideas together.

    Most of the time it depends.

    Best,
    Tomas

  30. Aleksandra says:

    I do both. Sometimes I’m totally in the zone and it just flows…other times, I need to put things down first and organize my thoughts before I start writing anything. But for new people I think it’s imperative to start with an outline.

  31. Dean Saliba says:

    I hardly ever plan what I’m going to write about. I prefer to let my fingers do the thinking.

  32. I never write outlines for my blog posts. I usually start writing, then stop. Go back and read what I’ve written, do some editing, more writing. Stop and then go back again. It all depends on how long the blog post is, and the topic of the blog post.

    I’ve thought about outlining my blog posts for a while, but I have always ended up not doing it :-)

  33. I use an outline for some of my more lengthy, powerful posts. However, for most of my posts under 1000 words, the outline is in my head.

    That said, I really wish some bloggers used an outline, their posts are all over the place. Then again, not sure if an outline would help; seems like they’re simply poor writers.

  34. If someone were to see my rough drafts…they wouldn’t know whether to praise me for my seeming brilliance or lock me in the loony bin.

    I tend to switch around when one idea creates another. Lots of windows open and plenty of new docs.

    That’s just how I roll. ;)

  35. My posts are connected to what ever I have been doing that day. The only planning I do is in my head. Maybe thats why I ramble on.

  36. I tend to outline what I want to write about this month, or within the next two weeks – mainly just post titles. I may then bullet-point some things I want to cover in an individual post…or not, depending on how straight-forward my post title is. For instance, on a resources post, I may want to be sure to cover X,Y,Z and I’ll bullet-point those things if I’m not going to write the post within a day or two. I’ve also bulleted sites I want to include as links under a projected post’s title. But mainly, the outline is my editorial calendar, and I write according to flow with just a few words to remind me about the direction I had in mind when I got the post idea.

  37. Mike Doyle says:

    I tend to take the pillar approach, too. I lightly outline the main points and them let myself fill them in as I go along. I have ADHD, so this helps a lot. A light outline of key points I want to cover makes sure I don’t forget them–and it also helps me structure my thoughts. Not outlining every single thought or paragraph, on the other hand, helps me use the creativity that flows from having an ADHD-racing brain.

  38. I use an outline, come up with a couple of points and then expand from there. I use to write free flow but would find my work would just be lacking in where I wanted it to be, when I started using an outline my posts would get finished and I could move on to editing and cleaning it up so the gibberish started making sense.

  39. elizof says:

    I write a weekly blog and outlines definitely work for me as I do quite a bit of brainstorming for my blog posts and find that it helps me organize my thoughts into complete, coherent ideas.

    Since I use photographs, quotes, links, and sometimes videos in my posts, I collect my materials in a MS Word document and draft the rest of my content from there.

    Once I upload my content onto WordPress, I do more writing, editing, and changes until I post it. I do go back to make corrections, updates or anything else, as needed, and this is why blogging is awesome. You can go back and make needed changes/updates; something I didn’t think about until I took Darren’s 31 Days workshop…

    I can’t thank you enough Darren as that course opened my newbie eyes to so much about blogging and I am still accelerating around that learning curve — still so much to learn!

    I suppose my approach has a lot to do with my academic training as I do truly enjoy researching my topics to find relevant, related information to add to my blog… I love beautiful art and photography and must admit this is one of the most satisfying things I search for when I write every blog post.

    Even something as simple as writing my Antonio Gaudi or my Gratitude posts was a combination of getting my data/photos from news reports/reviews, Wikipedia, friends, personal experience, Sanskrit references and more. Writing them was so freeing and I have since had requests from others to use them in presentations.

    With my interviews, I send my questions and communicate back and forth with the interviewees. I note down any comments they share that will help me produce an edited version of their final copy that stays true to their voice and vision.

    This might surprise you or not, but for every post on my blog, I have a completed copy without the quotes, photos or videos because I want to make sure the paragraphs are not disjointed; that they flow in a connected way – one to the other.

    I love my approach as it works for me and my rhythm. I admire your approach because it works for you… Like music, a blog can be written in many different ways and appeal to many different audiences; there isn’t a wrong or right way to blog just myriad ways of being heard.

    My notes/outlines/brainstroms are roadmaps to my blog and each piece is a precious part of the finished product.
    Cheers,
    Eliz

  40. I write posts in kind of a crazy way.

    Get my best ideas in the morning while I having some coffee and reading the Chicago Tribune.

    So I write all my ideas on the edges of the newspaper randomly.

    Then I go into my office with all my notes and put them in a word file and rearrange and add and edit.

    That’s my way of “outlining!”

  41. Robin Cannon says:

    I think I’m definitely in the group that writes freeform. I do plan out post topics in advance – I have a list of 50-60 posts that I still have to write. But most of the time I’ll choose one of those posts and sit down and simply write it.

    I find that if I’m overly planned I spend too much time going back and correcting my article *while* I’m writing it. That seems to result in the final result being too stilted. I get far better results when I let myself write and then go back and edit things on completion.

  42. I do both, but I should do outlines more often, I think.

  43. Bra Queen says:

    I LOVE writing free flowing! I love the fire a get in a belly and I write like a mad woman.
    I also write structural pieces as well to ensure I cover everything I need it to.
    It’s good to mix it up a bit!

  44. I have to say, and I was thinking maybe I was doing this ALL wrong, but my best posts, or at least the ones I like the best and feel the most comfortable promoting, are the ones that are spontaneous. There are a number that I would work on.. outline, research, whatever, and more often then not, they take forever, and sometimes never even make it to published.

  45. I never outline. I do keep a bullet-point list of topics, but that’s it. I love the element of surprise in free-style writing… occasionally, a post takes a totally different direction from what I had originally intended, and it’s delightful.

  46. K J SHENOY says:

    I generally have multiple posts in pipeline at any given time. I keep working on each idea when I find time. I post when one of those outlines develop fully. Cheers.

  47. Eric C says:

    I usually write a “zero” draft, then if it is long and unweildy I write an outline and rewrite it.

  48. When I write, I pretty much flow. Occasionally I do write an outline (and I should do that more often), but I write pretty free-style for now.

  49. Mike Skel says:

    I always outline my posts.

    I have not done any or experienced any free flowing post yet. And I am really wondering, how people can write any article or post free flowing way, except may be a short story ?
    Or am I understanding the ‘free flow’ style of writing in wrong way ?

  50. Fredrik says:

    No, I don’t write outlines..