Janice from Milton Keynes sent in the following query: I have some great ideas for articles, so I approached a national magazine. The editor answered saying to submit an outline of the proposed article. Can you tell me what should go in the outline?
An outline shows the proposed subject matter and how you intend to deal with it. Before writing an outline, it is essential you know exactly what you are going to write and have done all the necessary research and collating of facts.
Make short notes on each aspect of the article and then juggle them around until you have the feel of the piece. One way of doing this is by writing the ideas on pieces of paper or card and shuffling them into order. You can also type them into a word document, then cut and paste until you are satisfied with the way the article is going to be focussed.
Before you write the outline, start by imagining the editor. She is sitting at her desk opening perhaps the twentieth query letter of the morning and it is only 10am. Out of all the information you have collected for your article, what would make her put your query into the tiny ‘maybe’ pile instead of the overloaded rejection tray? What is it about the article you intend to write that would capture her interest and make her want to find out more? Whatever it is, that’s what goes into the intro section of your outline.
For the layout of the outline, centre your working title a few lines down from the top of the page, with your byline underneath. Drop down a couple of lines and write your outline.
Love Me, Love my Article
Intro: This is where you put your killer opening. The information used in such a way that the editor cannot fail to be interested. You could use the first few lines of the article as you intend to write it. Or you could put in some startling and little-known fact. Or ask a question that demands to be answered.
Main body: This contains the main points of interest and shows the tone the article is going to take.
Ending: Wrap up the article, so that it ties together all that has gone before into a cohesive whole. It is a good idea to refer back to the intro, if it is feasible to do so.
The outline should not take up more than a page, so keep to the point, but make sure the tone of the article comes through. If you intend to use humour, don’t tell the editor that, show her by using humour in your outline.
This is by no means the only way to write an outline, but it is one I have found to result in more acceptances than rejections.