So you’ve completed the research for your white paper or ebook and now you’re staring down the barrel of a big blank computer screen. Before putting fingers to keyboard, step back a moment and do a little planning or “prewriting.” Prewriting forces you to organize your thoughts resulting in a much more efficient writing process. If your project requires the approval of others (ie. clients, colleagues, content experts), you can greatly minimize revisions and rewrites by including the appropriate parties in the prewriting process.
While prewriting can take any of a number of forms, I prefer to start by brainstorming a web or “mind map” which I then turn into an outline. Mind mapping is a great way to quickly formulate ideas and information. The process creates a natural hierarchical structure which can then be easily translated into an outline. Some programs will even turn your completed mind map or web into an outline with the click of a button.
There are a number of great mind-mapping programs available. Bubble.us and Freemind are free programs which allow for collaborative mind mapping. Bubble.us is fairly simple and easy to use and offers a nice graphical interface. However, the last time I used it, Bubble.us did not offer an outline function. Freemind is a little more complex but I haven’t used it enough to test its outlining abilities.
Once you’ve got a formal outline, writing your white paper is really just a matter of writing out the outline in paragraph form.
Don’t draft, outline
Once you’ve created an outline, use the outline to work out any kinks in the paper. Present the outline to the appropriate parties for review and revision. It is much easier to make a major change in direction during the outline stage then it is once you’ve drafted the paper. You are not only saving yourself time in the writing process, you are also saving others time as it is much quicker to scan an outline then it is to read a completed draft.
Once all parties agree on a finalized outline, you can move forward with actual writing comfortable in the fact that there should be no major surprises or rewrites once you’ve drafted the paper.