Creating an Outline

As I mentioned last post, I am writing the third edition of AFS Reference and Access for Archives and Manuscripts. The first task was to create an outline. In general, I’ve always struggled with outlines. I like the idea – creating a coherent organization of content and research. In practice, it’s not my strength.

However, with this project it (so far) is working well. What helped tremendously is that I did not have to start from scratch. I began with the structure that Mary Jo Pugh used for the second edition. I knew I would not, nor should not, keep it exactly the same. My outline is definitely different, but using hers as a reference ensured that I did not miss any major topics.

Although I can’t share (sorry) the actual outline, it is organized into three major sections, chapters within each section, and topics within each chapter. When I reviewed it recently, I already see how I might reorganize a few parts, but I’m going to wait until I get to those chapters.

For the first time, I’m using an outline as guidance for writing. Especially, knowing exactly where to start when I sit down to write, as opposed to spending time thinking “hm, what should I write about today?” Granted, I’m not very far yet but psychologically, it gives me a good grounding. As I research and write, I have ideas not related to what I’m writing about. With the outline, it’s easy to look and identify where those ideas fit and make notes accordingly.

Lastly, it was a great way to create a schedule and deadlines. I can’t guarantee that I’ll meet them all (but am motivated to try!). Knowing that, for example, I plan to take one month to write a certain chapter, if I’m 2 weeks from the deadline but only have a few pages, I then know I need to either write more or refocus how I’m writing.

I know the outline will change and evolve as the project develops. I’m glad that I started this way. That’s not to say that creating an outline is the best for everyone or every project, but I’m grateful it was a requirement for this one.

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