by Jennie Ruby
The writing I was doing in school was essay writing. Essay writing can be a kind of exploratory writing, where you write in order to develop what you think about a topic. Seldom do you already have a well-thought-out, logical schema in your head of why you hold the opinions you hold. Essay writing is a method of clarifying what you think and why you think it. No wonder I could not outline in advance.
Writing training materials is a completely different matter. The first time I was assigned to write an outline for a two-day class, I was terrified. I knew I was not an outline writer. But I sat down and created the outline with very little trouble. Training materials lend themselves to pre-outlining. It is fairly straightforward to decide what needs to be covered first, second, and third because the learning topics build on one another. In fact, writing without an outline on these kinds of materials can get you into a bind: I learned the hard way that it is very difficult to teach the difference between who and whom before you have covered what is a relative clause.
So should you outline or not? Yes, for the overall plan of training materials, what will be covered and in what order. Yes, for developing the order of steps to be performed in sequential training materials. Yes, for getting approval of the overall training content from a client. No, for writing essays, opinion pieces, reviews, and the more creative sections of training materials, such as introductory narratives and voiceovers.
Are you an outliner or a non-outliner? We would love to hear from you about your experiences with outlining before writing.
Next time: the beauty of a "reverse outline."
Jennie teaches two classes popular online classes: Writing Effective eLearning Voiceover Scripts and Writing Training Documents and eLearning Scripts.