Just say no to outlines

Here's an easy method to help you organize your writing without doing an outline.

Did you hate outlining your term papers in English class? Do you still avoid outlining like the plague? If so, here's an easy method to help you organize your writing without doing an outline. This method works for any kind of writing, whether it's a numbered-series Extension publication or a newsletter article:

  • List the topics you want to cover. Don't worry what order they're in; just get them all down. You can do this on paper or on the computer.
  • Group the topics. Again, don't worry about the order. Simply put related topics together. You might think of this as organizing files into subdirectories or folders on your computer, or as sorting papers into file folders or piles on your desk.
  • Put the groups into logical order. If you were explaining the subject to someone in person, where would you start? Put that group of topics first, and continue putting the others in order. Now do the same thing with the individual topics within each group.
  • Start writing!
  • After you finish writing, create a table of contents from what you've written, not from your original list of topics. Do this even for a short article that won't actually need a table of contents.

Review your work

Look at the table of contents critically.

  • Does the order of the sections seem logical?
  • Are subsections under the proper main heading?
  • Are paragraphs where they really belong? You may be surprised to find parts of a discussion about fertilizer hidden under the "Irrigating" or "Planting" sections, when they all should be in the "Fertilizing" section.

As you are working don't be afraid to move things around into a more logical order. When it comes to organizing your writing, it's better late than never.