6 benefits of creating content outlines before writing actual content

Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe-Abraham Lincoln. 

Creating content outlines is equivalent to sharpening the edges of your content before it takes actual shape. Just like a sharp tool, it amplifies the effectiveness of your effort by ensuring that the content has a clearly stated, mutually agreed purpose/value between you and the person making the content request. Audience value apart, it also ensures that there is an agreed summary of how that value will be generated through high-level arguments and research notes. In this article, we discuss ten reasons why every business should invest time in creating an outline of the content before writing the full article.

1- Content outlines save cost

With more than 2 million blog posts getting published every day, your content needs to have that x-factor to be able to stand out. But here is the rub. You get what you pay for. Quality writers with the necessary domain expertise, who understand the nuances of your product/service offering, and who are committed enough to do the appropriate research for your content are expensive. This is especially true for industries that require technical expertise. Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to first agree on an outline before engaging this talent for spending time writing the full article? Here is the math- Say you pay $25 to a writer to first create an outline of how she intends to execute the brief. The writer charges $.20/word so you would be spending around $300 for a typical 1500 word article. You get outlines written for 5 ideas and spend a total of $125. After reading the outlines, you decide that 2 of those ideas are not worth proceeding with or that the writer simply does not have the skills to deliver them with the depth you are looking for. Sure your $50 for the 2 outlines goes down the drain but if you look at it another way, you actually saved $600. Not to mention all the heartburn, bad blood and earache you get from stakeholders when the content does not live up to its expectation.

2-Outlines save time

You may not be able to create more time, but you can certainly save some. In the chart below Marshal D. Carper not only highlights planning as an integral part of writing process but also mentions the proportion of the time it consumes.  

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Outlines make it possible to reduce content review times and iterations significantly. Both, the person requesting content and the one writing it have mutually agreed terms of reference right from start rather than it being the case, that content is re-drafted once an initial version is ready. This is super important for B2B marketing, where internal SMEs with limited time availabilities are involved in the content production process.

3-With an outline, in-house experts can also create content

More often than not, content creation is outsourced to freelancers or agencies. According to figures, almost 47% of B2B technology marketers outsource content creation.  

Imagine you are a high-tech consultancy providing complex AI related services to Financial Services clients. Your content needs to demonstrate not just general subject matter expertise, but in particular, how your solution would make a difference. You have two options

  1. Explain your proposition USP to a third party writer. Share with her all your case studies, internal consulting references, and other collateral and then hope that she can actually put together a convincing argument. In a majority of the cases, you will be far from a happy bunny with the final content deliverable and would need additional internal efforts to polish the intermediate draft.
  2. Move your Consultants/Developers off internal productive work (often billable!) and expect them to understand the nuances of creating engaging content that goes well beyond just putting out facts on the table. The likelihood is that as a Content Manager you will never get a nod for this option from Engineering/Product/Consulting teams.

Using content outlines in such scenarios should be a no-brainer. You get external experts to provide the structure for content, the high-level arguments to include and most importantly, add the research notes and third-party references that can be identified easily by someone who just understands the domain, but not necessarily your spin on it. You then use your internal SMEs to convert the precis into full-blown articles that can now double up as both branding and lead-generation magnets.

4-Outlines help create structured posts with a logical flow

When David McCombie began working as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company, he says, I was getting feedback that I needed to get to the point more quickly. It is very natural for writers to flow with their thoughts and unconsciously disturb the balance between logic, facts, and creativity in an article. An outline helps avoid this trap by making the writer adhere to a pre-agreed template. For example, here is an outline template that we use internally when creating content. Content ideas cannot be created without completing these sections. As can be seen, the writer (or person requesting the content) must answer all these questions before a content item can be sanctioned for formal budget spend. A part of our governance process also ensures that this outline is carefully followed when we review the final draft before sign-off.

5-Outlines provide a solution to the writer’s block

The Writer’s block happens when your imaginary friend doesn’t talk to you. The blank documents stare you back, and you quickly become clueless about how to complete the content piece you started. An outline is a solution here as well. Rather than struggle with coming up with full content in one go, or even taking long in-between breaks to regain focus, try to identify the high-level items you will cover as and when you actually start writing content. Capture relevant notes and ensure that you have enough raw material to go by in order to quickly create the first draft as soon as the content is approved.

6-Outlines can help you discover future topics

Many times it happens that we have volumes to speak about a specific section of the topic, but the word count/size restrictions of the content piece bind us. This almost forces you to break the content down into more logically related clunks and thereby leading to the identification of future topics.

Summary

Well-written and approved content outlines have the potential to truly transform both the efficiency and effectiveness of your content production efforts. This is especially true of environments that rely on third-party consultants to create content, and where production volume/velocity are both high. The most practical approach to using content outlines is to make them part of the content/idea approval process wherein the originator/contributor have to mandatorily full up certain details before the requests can even be saved in the database.