We can all agree that creating a plan is a vital part of any writer’s workflow. A writer who is able to sit down and put their preliminary thoughts to paper before they complete a piece will often get their message across more effectively than one who doesn’t.
But a problem many writers face is understanding how to create a plan in the first place. While there are plenty of conversations about how to tweak and improve the writing in a final piece, there are fewer about how to fit together the nuts and bolts of an argument in a way that’ll hold under pressure.
That’s why we decided to make “how do you plan an article” the first question that the Go Editorial Roundtable had to answer to do just that.
So what advice did our experts provide to writers the world over needing help creating a master plan? And what lessons can we learn from their collective experience? Let’s find out.
Will Blackstock, Freelance Writer and Editor
I start with my goal and work backwards. This could be getting people to subscribe to a blog, podcast or YouTube channel, share a Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn post, it could be an advertorial, or it could be less clearly defined.
Depending on what you’re writing, you’ll probably have between 3-5 ideas or talking points. I like to make a spider diagram so I understand how each one is linked. This makes ordering the points and deciding the flow of your content much easier. The plan should cover how each point helps meet the goal.
I come up with at least two bullet points of compelling, persuasive or otherwise engaging information for each idea in the diagram. If you can’t explain why it’s interesting, your reader won’t care. You need to either cut it, call someone who can explain why it’s interesting (never email them – they’ll only waffle), or head to Google.
Write about your most interesting or important point first. This will grab your reader’s attention and get them to keep them reading.
Every paragraph should answer ‘why should I care?’ You need an answer for each point in your plan.
If, when you start writing, you find there’s something else you want to say, go back to the plan and cut ideas/points from there, then rewrite. Don’t remove sections on the fly: your writing will sound disjointed and your reader will feel that something is off.
Helen Gould, Copywriting Manager
The way that you plan your writing will depend on what kind of content it is – an opinion piece for a magazine is different to an advert, and both are different to a blog post written for SEO purposes.
However, in every case, you must assess your audience first. If you don’t draw them in from the beginning, your work won’t get read.
What are they interested in? What do they need to know? What kind of tone and vocabulary do they use, and how easily can you adapt to it? Once you understand this, the rest will follow – and you might even get to experiment with it.
Structure is also crucial, even if it’s just a bullet point list to remind you of what you need to cover, what your aim is, and who you’re targeting. If you get lost, this will remind you of what you’re trying to get across.
Lastly, if you are working on a commissioned piece, you should plan for a certain number of edits and drafts. You will rarely write something perfect on your first go, so stay adaptable: never get too attached to anything you write for someone else!
Ric Cowley, News Editor for Pocket Gamer Biz
For news and other regular articles, I’ll always have a set format in my head. I just take whatever information I need, work out what’s most important, and slot it all in accordingly.
For long-form articles like opinion pieces I tend not to plan – I just charge right into whatever it is I’m writing and see what comes out on the other side.
This is particularly helpful if you have the very basic idea of what you want to say, but you’re not sure how to word it. Just let it all out in a giant horrible splurge, and then pick through the remains to see which parts stand out to you.
Once you’ve found what your key point actually is (and it can change completely from what you initially set out to write), throw everything you’ve done out and start from scratch.
That way you can focus solely on that one key thing you want to say, and start working out how to say it. And you know if your idea sucks or not, because if there was nothing worth saving in your garbage first draft, you didn’t have anything to say anyway.
George Osborn, Founder of Go Editorial
Before I plan an article, I’ll try to see if I can summarise the point I’m going to make in a single sentence. If I can’t do that easily or effectively, then I’ll go and do supplementary research or extra thinking until I’ve bridged that gap.
Once I’ve got my answer, I then aim to create a plan that guides the reader to my conclusion. How I do this will differ from piece to piece (especially after factoring in conditions such as word count or audience), but in general I try to create 3-7 ‘steps’ that I need to take to get them there to provide the structure of the plan.
Then, I attempt to provide 2-3 bullet points to go with each step to support the point before ending on an additional “connective” thought. I do this to a) make sure that each point can stand up to scrutiny, b) make sure that each point has the texture that’ll ensure the reader remains interested and c) make sure that the overall article flows successfully.
Ultimately, I think of planning as the writing equivalent of creating a blueprint. It’s a necessary precondition to a successful build and an important way of making sure you deliver exactly what you want to.
Planning is an important part of writing successfully and persuasively. Looking across the advice given by the Roundtable, a good plan requires a solid foundation of prior research, an understanding of an audiences needs and a number of talking points to guide the writer and reader to their destination successfully.
However, it’s also important to remember the limitations of planning. If a plan isn’t working, then it’s better to go back and redraft it rather than sacrifice the quality of the piece by sticking dogmatically to it. Equally, a plan should not discourage you from improvisation. Writing freely without thinking too hard about structure or going off on a tangent if the mood takes you unlock creativity that a plan – through little fault of its own – might smother.
Lastly, planning isn’t necessarily a one shot process. If a piece returns with a request for edits, it might be useful to re-plan the piece to make sure it captures the feedback in a way that meaningfully hangs together.
Want to ask a question for our roundtable or want to join it? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.