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Chunking and Outlining Blog Topic Ideas

Being stuck for a blog post topic isn’t always a case of sitting down and your brain going blank. That was the problem we hopefully had solutions for in the previous post of this series.

There are times when you know in advance the overall subject you need to cover but somehow you still need to actually write the individual articles.

Consider the situation where you start a new blog, or get invited to write for a blog. You get given the niche, such as “photography”, “gardening”, “tech”. The problem is scale; how do you find a focused and interesting article topic out of the entire field?

The strategies to use in this circumstance overlap somewhat and are complimentary too. For this post let’s take a look at “chunking and outlining”. This strategy is ideal for when you have a starting point, a country-sized subject to explore.

Chunking for Blog Topic Ideas

“How do you eat an elephant?”. Of course the answer is “One bite at a time”. It’s a cliché but it’s used so much because it works.

Your problem here is the subject is too big, it is hard to find an entry point. The trick is to break it up into pieces. Start looking for the chunks, look for places you can break the big subject into smaller ones. Some ideas for where to start:

  1. Are there obvious chunks? – Many topics have chunks you can think of right away, for example photography you might talk about equipment and technique as two chunks, in SEO you might talk about on-site and off-site tactics, gardening has seasons, etc.
  2. Are there difficulty or complexity levels? – I often find that any subject I am asked to write about has beginner, intermediate and advanced levels, these can be chunks too.
  3. Are there chronological chunks? – Some subjects have a beginning, middle and end, or are categorized by time. Think how people often try to place things into eras, like Web1.0 and Web2.0, or comics “Golden Age”, etc. What is the “history” of your subject?

Already you might have material to start writing! “The history of _____” or “The 10 Types of ____” etc make worthwhile articles before we even get into the detail of the subject.

Once you have big chunks you need to start chunking the chunks. You stop when you either have sufficient material to work with or have each chunk down to the atomic level and can go no further.

The way I go from “big blob” to “atomic detail” is to use an outline.

Outlining for Blog Topics

Outlines are something I learned for writing books and large reports. Essentially it is chunking in bullet form. You can of course like most things complicate it further, and there are even software packages and an XML format especially for outlines, but for the sake of this discussion just think of it as nested bullets.

When you look at a books content page we have chapter titles then under that you might see subheadings. That’s pretty much what an outline is.

Taking photography as a subject, we would start to outline it using nested bullets like so:

  • Photography
    • Techniques
    • Equipment
      • Lenses
      • Lighting
      • Cameras
        • Digital
          • Point and shoot cameras
          • DSLR cameras

Keep drilling down, going up and down the list to find more places where you can branch off, re-categorize items, and generally expand as best you can. When you have exhausted your ideas then look over the list for inspiration.

If I looked at my list now I could take the last point and further break that down into directly applicable topics:

  • DSLR cameras
    • What is a DSLR?
    • Choosing a DSLR
    • Most-needed DSLR features
    • Finding a DSLR for under $500
    • DSLR maintenance

As well as finding topic ideas, this technique is also ideal for finding your categories. I have not only written books this way but started whole blogs using the same technique.

Summary

Although very effective, this technique works best when you are already knowledgable and comfortable with your subject area. It’s all about organizing knowledge you know you have. In the next part of this series we will look at more open and creative techniques for when you don’t know what you know until you see it 🙂

Do you use chunking and outlines? Is it something you can see yourself trying?

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Comments

  1. Chris,

    great content. I’ve just started writing for beneaththebrand.com and i’m working on generating content for that blog which revolves around a certain topic. I’m going to be capturing the big picture ideas and then using outlines to break it all down.

    Thanks for the content.

  2. Chris,

    great content. I’ve just started writing for beneaththebrand.com and i’m working on generating content for that blog which revolves around a certain topic. I’m going to be capturing the big picture ideas and then using outlines to break it all down.

    Thanks for the content.

  3. Sounds good, nice domain too. Good luck with it 🙂

  4. Sounds good, nice domain too. Good luck with it 🙂

  5. I am more of a chunker…an outline is too detailed for me. I tend to change things around-add information-cut it out. The chunking method is easier…and takes up less paper.

  6. I am more of a chunker…an outline is too detailed for me. I tend to change things around-add information-cut it out. The chunking method is easier…and takes up less paper.

  7. Thanks for that Chris!

  8. Thanks for that Chris!

  9. @Kerith – Some people can work with bigger chunks, others need detailed lists – I guess it comes down to what works for you 🙂

    @Jermayn – Thank you for reading 🙂

  10. @Kerith – Some people can work with bigger chunks, others need detailed lists – I guess it comes down to what works for you 🙂

    @Jermayn – Thank you for reading 🙂