Clean, Effective Articles and Exposition
At the coffee shop where I like to work in the mornings, you can get whatever you want for breakfast, as long as it’s either a scramble, or an omelet. I tease them, “Can I choose which one?” See, in my house, you ask for an omelet, and you might get an omelet, or, if things aren’t going as well, you might get a scramble. Same eggs and cream, same veggies and cheese, but in the end, an entirely different shape.
A Scramble or an Omelet?
The difference between me, at home on my iron skillet, and the chef with his professional equipment, is two-fold. First, he has an expensive non-stick skillet, just perfect for making omelets. Second, he has practiced using that skillet, until his method is almost fool-proof.
How to Outline: Writing the Perfect Omelet
A shiny new skillet won’t help you. For expository writing, you need a different sort of tool: the outline.
Don’t panic, now. This isn’t eighth grade, and you don’t have to use roman numerals. That’s not the point of an outline anyway.
An outline helps you clarify your thinking, and figure out exactly what you want to cover in your article. It will give your final article a logical structure and flow, making it much easier for the reader to follow. And it will improve the editing and re-write process, because you can see relationships between sections clearly, and move things around when necessary.
How to Create an Outline
Creating the outline is all about organizing your thoughts. Once that’s done, writing it down is a simple matter. So, to get your thinking in order, start by answering these questions:
- Who is the intended audience for this article?
- Why am I writing it? What’s my purpose?
- In a sentence or so, what is it I want to say? (This is your thesis statement.)
Once you have clarified for yourself why you are writing, who you are writing for, and what you have to say, you can begin putting the ideas in order.
All pets must be spayed or neutered.
1. There are a lot of kittens born every year.
2. Almost all are unwanted.
3.Feral cats spread disease…
Write your thesis statement at the top of a page. Then, below that, make a list of points you want to be sure to cover. You do not need to be specific yet.
Now spend some time adding details. (Kittens born where? In the world? In Chicago?) You might want to research facts that you haven’t checked out yet. (How many kittens, exactly?) You can note areas where you’d like to include a quote from an expert, or a graph. If you are using a word-processor like Word or OpenOffice.org, you will find it easy to move things around, and add more information to each section as you think it through. (Learning to use the outline feature of your word-processor will pay off in the long run. But I’ll leave that for another article.)
As you add the details, the logical structure will take shape. You’ll notice areas where you want to talk about a particular facet of your topic, but haven’t given the background information yet. It’s very straightforward, at that point, to slide things around until the flow makes sense.
An outline can really make a difference in how your article comes together, and how much stress you experience while writing it. It will also improve the reaction you get from editors and potential publishers. Clear logic, distinctive sections, and complete thought processes make your article more inviting and more readable, for everyone from the editor and publisher to the reader who finds it and decides to dive in to see what you have to say.