When you are working on a book, the way you organize the material has a significant impact on whether or not you effectively communicate what you want to say to your readers. Many people have problems organizing their ideas into a cohesive presentation. When you are working on any big writing project, it’s easy to get sidetracked.
To keep your writing on target, I recommend that you create a preliminary outline. I think of a preliminary outline as a road map to your book. It’s a lot easier to get where you want to go if you have a map. With a good outline, writing a book can be as simple as filling in the blanks.
After you have done some brainstorming, gathered any existing content, and done your research, you have a lot of material to manage. As you go through the information, you need to consider two primary elements:
1. Precedence or sequence (i.e. the order of things). In other words, you need to decide what comes before what.
2. Grouping of information by topic, so related information is together in the book.
The book needs to be organized on several levels. The entire book needs to make sense as a whole, but each chapter or section also needs to make sense independently. Clear writing is even organized on a sentence level, so that one sentence logically flows to another. It’s a lot easier to get this level of clarity on something as long as a book if you have mapped out what goes where ahead of time.
When you consider the precedence and grouping of your information, you need to organize it according to the way your reader thinks about the subject. Always write with your reader in mind. Make sure you start with what’s important to the reader (not what’s important to you).
For example, in our book Web Business Success, one of the first things we needed to explain is how a Web site actually works and why a company would want to have one in its marketing mix.
It’s much easier on readers if you group all the information on a given topic into one section of a book, rather than scattering snippets throughout. Again, that’s a recipe for a really annoying book.
Your preliminary outline can be somewhat “flat” meaning that you probably don’t need to go beyond two levels. You can think of your top-level headings as chapters, and then second level headings as the subheadings within the chapters. Or in Word parlance, “Heading 1 and Heading 2.” Within your outline, you can include quick notes on what you plan to talk about in each section.
As you create your outline, you’ll find that certain information lends itself to being included at the beginning of a book, some in the middle, and some toward the end. In the beginning, you include introductory and background information along with the purpose of the book. You put more detailed information about your subject, strategies, methodologies and procedures in the middle. And at the end, you add conclusions, recommendations, and supplementary material like a glossary and index.
If your writing is veering off-course, remember it’s always easier to get where you need to go if you have a map.