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Four steps to creating an outline for your proposals and reports

Do you find it difficult to begin the writing process for your business documents, especially reports or proposals?

Have you ever found yourself in one of these situations?

  • You have limited time to complete your document
  • You are not clear as to what you need to produce
  • You have too much information and sifting through it all is wasting time

When you are in one or all of these situations an outline can save you time and can help you to become clear as to the essential components of your document.

Benefits

There are many benefits gained by creating an outline. These include having something to follow during the writing process, being able to break the task into manageable parts and ensuring no information is left out.

In this article, I have applied the concepts of creating an outline specifically to writing proposals and reports.

Creating an outline

An outline is the skeleton of the document – it shows you what you should write and at what point.

Follow these four steps to create an outline for your document.

Step One – Key result

Write the key result as you understand it. When doing this consider these questions:

  • What specific outcomes should this project produce?
  • Which outcomes are most important?
  • What business needs do the outcomes address?

When writing the key result it is important to write it as a concise sentence. You do not want to be referring to paragraphs in the following steps when you revisit your key result.

Step Two – Brainstorm

Brainstorm all that you know about the relevant aspects of your proposal or report especially these three questions:

Who?

Who needs to be involved?

Why?

Why is your solution the best one to follow?

When?

When will the project need to be completed by?

To develop a complete picture here are some further questions to consider:

  • How can I define the result areas?
  • What are the appropriate measurement indicators?
  • What is the cost?
  • What is my solution to the problem or situation?

It is important that you do not order the points that you have brainstormed at this stage. If you do, then you are more likely to block any further thoughts about your report or proposal.

Step Three – Group related ideas or facts

Once you have finished brainstorming it is time to group related ideas or facts.

Connect the relevant points to the key result that you wrote at the beginning of the brainstorming process.

Expand on the ideas becoming more specific where possible.

Step Four – Prioritise

Now is the time to prioritise. Think about your reader and what should come first from their point of view. Number the key points in order of importance.

Result

The end result is an outline for a report, the executive summary of a proposal or an outline for a complete letter proposal.

You can repeat the process for each section of your document as necessary. Depending on your document you can then focus on areas such as technical specifications, functional specification, project plan and cost analysis.

Making this a regular part of your writing process will help you to save time. You will also be able to focus on the important aspects of your document and in turn it will become a document that will be easy to follow.

By producing a document that is easy to follow and which covers the key areas for your reader you are helping to increase your chances of having your report accepted and followed or your proposal winning you new business.

Have you found it beneficial to use outlines when creating your documents?

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Maria Pantalone

Maria Pantalone is the author of Success Talks: Conversations with Everyday Leaders. Maria works with individuals and teams to make communication their strength so that their message is heard. She provides tailored programs in presentation skills, business writing and effective communication as a leader and team member. Maria’s programs help her clients to excel in their role and be recognised as leaders in their field.
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