You know from the movies how writing as a process is supposed to work.
With a flash of recognition, you, the photogenic hero, are struck with a brilliant idea. You grab a sheet of paper and crank it hastily into the typewriter (this movie is an old one). The words flow in just the right order, as fast as you can type them. When you’re finished, you rip the paper from the typewriter with satisfaction and sit back, smiling at your own brilliance.
If only it were so. In reality, once you work up the courage to begin your blog post and fill that scary blank screen, the words come out in fits and jerks. They’re definitely not in just the right order, but it’s tough to say just what the right order is.
Fortunately, you already know what to do. Writing a blog post is much like writing a school essay (only more entertaining). You have a point to make or information to impart, and your goal is to make your reader understand you and, in the best of all worlds, agree with you. A blog post, like an essay, usually has a beginning (“introduction,” where you let your reader know what you’re going to be writing about), a middle (“body,” where you provide the bulk of your information), and an ending (“conclusion,” where you offer a witty comment or reiterate your main point). In short, you 1) tell your reader what you’re going to say, 2) say it, and 3) tell your reader what you just said.
Because blog writing lends itself to this three-part approach, you can use the same strategies your English teacher taught you in high school. I, for one, keep going back to two old tools for organizing my thoughts: a neat one (the outline) and a messy one (the brain dump). In this post I will discuss the outline; later in the week I will touch on the brain dump.
To put it succinctly, the outline is your friend. Really. Since you already know that you’re going to have an introduction, body, and conclusion, you already have the beginning of an outline:
In the introduction, you might begin by coming right out and making your point. In this post, for instance, I might have begun with something like, “You can use an outline to organize a blog post just as you would use one to organize an essay.” This would be known as a “thesis statement.”
As an alternative, you might begin with a story or discussion that illustrates your topic. This is the approach I took. I tried to start off with an entertaining image of you, the writer, as a movie character. You can decide if I was successful. (Note, however, that you eventually need to have a thesis statement; in this post, my thesis statement is in the first couple of sentences of the fourth paragraph.)
The “body” section is the meat of your post. Under it, you would list the points you want to make, usually with the most important first and the least important last. You can subdivide each point and be as detailed as you like. Your conclusion will let your readers know how they should feel about what they just read.
If you were writing a post about apples, your outline might look like this:
- I like apples
- You should like them, too
- Apples are delicious
- They are sweet
- They are crunchy
- Apples are versatile
- You can use them in pies
- You can use them as snacks
- Apples are cool
- “American as apple pie”
- Johnny Appleseed
- Apples are great
- You should agree
You can be as detailed as you want, placing each point you want to make in its proper place until nary a sentence has been left out.
Outlines can be a lot of work, but they can make the actual writing much, much easier. Instead of worrying about what you’re going to say, you can focus on your tone and wording. With a detailed outline by your side, you can approach that scary blank screen without fear. (This is my attempt at a witty closing. You can decide if I was successful.)