Try This! - Outline, Re-Outline, Re-Outline Again

By Jennifer Serravallo:

If you came to visit me in my home, you’d notice:

The spice rack is alphabetized
The shoes are lined up in a tray by the front door
The bed is made, military-style

You see, I was raised by an analytical chemist so I picked up a thing or two about organization and order. 

What does this have to do with writing? 

I’d say I’m a structure-first kind of writer, not a pour-you-heart-out-on-the-page-don’t-worry-where-it’s-headed kind. When starting a new project, I find that I spend a lot of “notebooking” (now MacBook Pro-ing) time setting up my structure. I’ll outline, then reimagine the outline, then do it again. And when I feel like it’s all in order, I start to write into it.

So, try this. Think about a topic you want to teach about. Come up with parts, categories, kinds, types of that topic. Then take one of the parts and turn that into an outline. Then, reimagine the categories by flipping your heads and subheads. 

Look at what you’ve done and see which way feels right. Setting up structure from the start will save you tons of revision time in the end, and will make sure your writing is easy to follow!

Here are two outlines that I have made.  One is about teaching reading and one is about dogs.

Click to Enlarge this MacBook Pro Outline

Click to Enlarge this Notebook Entry

Jennifer Serravallo is the author of several well-organized books on the teaching of reading, including her latest The Reading Strategies Book. She’s also a mom of two, consults with schools across the country, and speaks at conferences. Find her online at or @jserravallo.

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