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How to Write a Blog Post Outline

A road trip across America can take a thousand different roads and take in a thousand different sights.

Your map makes the journey possible. It helps you to plot a clear route from point A to point Z. It also helps shape the type of journey you’ll have and the sights you’ll encounter along the way. It’s the difference between a whistle-stop tour of America’s greatest historical sites, from Alcatraz Island to Faneuil Hall, or an esoteric drive from California’s Winchester Mystery House to Massachusetts’ Paper House.

When writing, your outline is your map. It helps turn a thousand thoughts and ideas into a cohesive structure. It ensures that your blog post delivers on its intended purpose, getting the reader from start to finish. It helps you choose which ideas and examples to visit along the way, leaving the reader smarter and more entertained as a result.

With a great map, the “driving” portion of your road trip becomes easy. In the same way, a great outline makes the “writing” part of your blog post easy because you’ve done the hard thinking: you know where you’re headed and how best to get there.

The Thesis: Define Your Argument

Journeys require a destination, and blog posts need a thesis.

A thesis is a one-sentence expression of the argument a piece of content intends to make. Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) says that a thesis should make a “complex and unique argument that someone could reasonably object to.” In other words, it should require arguments for or against—otherwise, there’s no point in writing the article. (CMU gives the negative example, “Andrew Carnegie was extremely wealthy.” Cool. And?)

The idea expressed in your thesis is your destination—by the end of the draft, you will have convinced your readers of something. What is that something?

The thesis for this article looked something like this: “An outline for a blog post requires more thinking than it does writing.”

Here are a couple of examples to take inspiration from:

All types of content benefit from a thesis. Even a roundup of 20 CRM tools shouldn’t be chosen at random: it could be an exhaustive list, or an opinionated list based on personal experience, or a list chosen by experts, or a list categorized by features and integrations.

The 10%: Structure Your Argument

With your destination decided, the next step is to mark essential milestones on your map—the highways, gas stations and motels that make the journey physically possible. In writing a blog post, your headers serve the same purpose.

The reader should be able to understand your argument by reading the headings only, which therefore must be ordered logically and worded clearly. Writing your headings as you plan to use them in the article and perhaps jotting short notes about each (that is, 10% of your article) quickly shows you where the gaps are in your thinking, allowing you to rearrange, remove or seek out the information required to successfully support your thesis.

By writing a 10%, you’re reducing the likelihood of a catastrophic breakdown midway through the article and optimizing for the way most people consume online content: skimming and focusing on sections that pique their interest.

A good 10% will look different depending on the type of article you’re writing, but rules of thumb can be useful:

NOTE: The headings are the only part of an outline—besides quotes—that you want worded the way they will be worded in the final draft. The goal is to show your thinking in an outline, not to show off your writing.

This blog post is a process article, so our 10% outline contains the basic flow of writing an outline, ordered chronologically:

Here’s what the 10% outline for this article looked like.

The 30%: Support Your Main Points

Your road trip can take in any number of landmarks on the route from the journey’s start to the journey’s end, and the locations you visit en route will color your experience. Your blog post is much the same: you can choose any combination of examples, anecdotes and stories to strengthen your argument, and the end product will look different as a result.

The 30% is where you elaborate on your 10%, declaring the main point of each section and how it will be supported. Again, show your thinking, not your writing—most of what you write in an outline may not be used word for word in the final draft. That doesn’t mean it won’t be used, just that it doesn’t have to be.

Here’s the 30% for this article; each header has its own simple thesis and is supported by two to four supporting points, just enough to add clarity and persuasiveness:

This 30% was the precursor to the finished article you’re reading now.

We use bullets to visibly separate how we’re going to support the main point of each section. Your supporting points might do any of the following:

Brevity is key—outlines are not article drafts. With each additional example, idea or elegant turn of phrase, the harder it becomes to understand the bare bones logic of your argument, and because of the sunk cost fallacy, the less willing you’ll be to cut your writing when it becomes necessary to do so.

As a rough rule, aim for no more than 30% of the total word count at this stage. If you can remove bullet points and combine the remaining sentences into paragraphs, you’re not writing an outline; you’re writing a rough draft.

“If you can remove bullet points and combine the remaining sentences into paragraphs, you’re not writing an outline; you’re writing a rough draft.”

Introductions and Conclusions: Capture and Keep Your Readers’ Attention

It’s likely that you’ll remember the beginning and end of your road trip with disproportionate clarity, and blog posts are often the same.

Good introductions hook the reader. Punchy statistics, compelling stories or memorable quotes all serve to pique the reader’s interest and draw them further into the article. In the outlining process, your introduction shouldn’t be detailed—you’re just signposting what you intend to use in the draft.

You’ve (hopefully) noticed the road-trip-themed hook for this article. Here’s what it looked like in the outline phase:

Similarly, good conclusions are more than rote summaries of the article: they offer something extra, like a souvenir purchased from the final stop on your epic journey. This could be an extra data point, a bonus step to the process you outlined, or a new framing of your argument—whatever is required to help the reader take a logical next step after reading your article.

For this article, we’re wrapping up with additional context to help with your first article outline:

Think Before You Write

It takes weeks to plan a good road trip that may take just days to drive. Hidden behind the feeling of freedom and effortlessness that comes from jumping in your car and driving toward the horizon is a huge amount of time, energy and thought. Writing is much the same.

An outline will probably take you longer to write than a draft because it requires you to do most of the hard thinking upfront. Crucially though, that front-loaded thought dramatically increases the likelihood of a great finished product—an article that delivers on its promises while being interesting, compelling and original. Like turning the key in your ignition after weeks of planning, your outline makes the process of writing productive and enjoyable.