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Are there any good methods for planning and writing anything (I'm thinking of articles, blog posts, and books)?

My current method is to gather some information about a topic and write about the topic. This method works pretty well for short articles, but what about more elaborate articles or even books? You will lose track of the resource you used (not in a sense of literally losing the resource but rather the contents).

UPDATE 11-08-2012

Most answers contain elements of mind mapping or high level overview building. What I did to begin with was creating a high level overview (because the topics are already there). Then I started mind mapping every topic (chapter). My real problem is going from mind maps and ideas to actual writing.

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Try mind mapping. Write a selected topic in the middle of a sheet of paper, and add related topics around the center, joining them with lines to the central concept. This helps to gather topics related to the the central one, or to gather topics that are part of the central one. This has helped me to gather thoughts about writing posts, articles, and reports.

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I do agree on the idea of mind-mapping. I got I lot of mindmapping done on the subject, but somehow, there is (to me atleast) a gap when going from mindmap to actually writing stuff down. – Roel Nov 1 '12 at 8:59

I use two methods - the basic, short term one is to mind map (I use Freemind, which is a free tool that works pretty well, but there are many like it) and add all aspects of the subject into the map, then I define linkages between them, which helps generate the flow, whether it be as an article for a newspaper or magazine, a presentation or a blog post. An example from the freemind web page:

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The longer term one is getting into the habit of noting down anything that you create, learn or do each day that is different, key to your role, or has an interest. This can help feed into blogs and articles, but more interestingly, looking through these notes can help you write a book through sorting into concepts, chapters etc.

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Oftentimes when I'm preparing to write a larger article or even when I wrote my book, a high-level table of contents or outline is the best method. This tried and true process is great as it allows you to start very broad and then work down each item to provide more detail. It also allows you to re-order items easily since they are pretty much a type of bullet point.

Once you do this, you'll notice the ideas flowing a little bit better and much easier to actually start the article.

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Before I write at length on a topic I find it very helpful to set a goal for it. It's similar to a title but focuses more on what I want the reader to be left with at the end of it.

The next step is to come up with very concise bulletpoints of how I think I can achieve that goal. What information is key to it.

This is a combination of brainstorming and creating an outline. I then start adding some detail to each bulletpoint.

I find this helps keep me on track and gives me a sense of my progress so I don't panic if it's a large project.

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I generally start with a brainstorming about the goal for what I am writing and quick notes on what I need to know. I then use a Mind Mapping tool (there are many free ones) as a concept organizer to parse out a structure that meets my goal.

At this point I usually export the Mind Map to an outline and then things vary. Sometimes, if the task is large enough, I use a program like Scrivener that is made for this kind of work. Other times I just work from the outline, keeping my resources in my trusted system (in my case dropbox and evernote).

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The Writing Process notes a few stages in the process of going to write something:

  • Brainstorming
  • Organizing
  • Outlining
  • Drafting
  • Revising
  • Proofreading

If you have the brainstorming done, then move onto organizing and outlining.

For maintaining resources, having a bibliography would likely be handy as this would note where you are getting some information.

If you want ideas on how to outline or draft there are a couple of different approaches I'd suggest:

  1. Divide and conquer - Consider breaking down the problem until you get to individual words. For example, for each chapter what is in each of those? In each of those? and recursively apply this process until you get down to the individual words you plan to use to convey the idea.

  2. Just write - Rather than worry about getting things correct, you could do some free form writing and then organize afterward to see what makes sense to put into a post.

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