Written by Rebecca van Laer
January 7th, 2022
Written by Rebecca van Laer
At Copycat, we’re always in the process of creating new professional development resources for working and aspiring copywriters. The below blog post is adapted from our in-house manual on all things copy-related, Copycat’s Anatomy.
If you’ve never used an outline before—well, congratulations! You’ve gotten this far with copywriting, and you’re clearly doing something right when it comes to organizing your thoughts and putting words on the page.
For most of us mortals, outlines are a necessary step of the writing process, especially when approaching challenging prompts and unfamiliar topics.
Here, we’ll provide a step-by-step guide for using outlines to your advantage, as well as a list of tips and tricks to streamline your writing process.
Before you dive into the outline process, it’s important to double-check that you understand the assignment.
You might’ve learned this in English class—no matter how well-organized and insightful your essay on Hamlet, it’s all for nought if the assignment was to write on an adaptation of a Shakespeare text.
Take a look at your article’s title, H1, meta description, and the client’s website to understand three things about the article:
This information can provide a jumping-off point for brainstorming.
Let’s take a look at a few potential example articles:
Outlining and brainstorming can go hand in hand. Before you even start researching, try brainstorming in the form of a rough outline.
At Copycat, we advocate for outlining in progressive stages.
Have you ever created a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious outline to end all outlines, so long that it got you 60% of the way to your final word count?
How much of that outline did you actually end up filling in?
We thought so.
Rather than planning out the entire article in advance, consider aiming to outline one-half or one-third of the article.
Take a look at our example brainstorming for the weighted blanket article:
Note that some sections have a question mark or are marked “research needed.” You may not ultimately end up writing an article that covers every part of your outline.
As you begin to write, you’ll see how much research is actually required to reach your target word count. You’ll also start to spark new ideas that you can add to the outline.
No matter the genre of your article, grouping related concepts together can help you avoid repetition and create seamless transitions between ideas.
Let’s take a look at an example.
If you’re writing a listicle on “X” benefits of using a virtual assistant, how do you decide on a number? If the article is 800 words, you could theoretically write on three…or 30.
There will be a noticeable difference between the way these two articles read.
Once you’ve brainstormed, look for ways to relate your ideas to each other.
Below, take a look at the evolving outline for “How to Get Better Sleep” (with new brainstorming added in bold):
Note that the writer was able to generate new ideas as they grouped their existing brainstorming into rough categories. With so many potential tips and steps for better sleep, they may no longer need to include a section on “benefits of getting better sleep.”
Once you’ve grouped related concepts, decide how to order them.
In a previous blog post, we discussed why it’s always important to answer the topic immediately in your copywriting.
In addition, follow these principles to order your ideas:
Next, we’ll take a look at the re-ordered outline for the sleep guide:
The broad umbrella categories have been reordered into three steps, progressing from a one-time action to a long-term commitment.
Notice how sleep masks, ear-plugs, and noise machines have all been grouped together under a single step. In contrast, the brand’s product—a weighted blanket—stands out in its own bullet point.
Finally, note that the writer has still not built out the final part of their outline. They’re outlining in progressive stages, and will only begin that research after they’ve drafted the copy for Steps 1-3.
Once you’ve completed a first draft of your article, go back through your headings and check for the following:
With these five steps, you’ll be on your way to writing well-organized articles that provide value to readers and brands.
We’ve got just a few more quick tips for leveraging outlines to your advantage:
Copywriting is an evolving industry, and as the competition grows to include both content from copy mills and AI-generated text, aspiring and experienced copywriters alike need to develop the skills to write logical, lyrical copy while maximizing their speed.
An efficient outlining process can help you reliably generate quality articles while minimizing the time you spend on your self-edit.
Want more tips and tricks of the trade? Get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org!
Purdue OWL. How to Outline. https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/the_writing_process/developing_an_outline/how_to_outline.html