There are times when you need to write an outline for a non-fiction book when you don't have a writing design document. This could be because you don't have a content map or other design document. It could be because you rewrote the book after the design. It could be because it isn't your book. But whatever the reason there will be times when you need to write an outline based on the actual book. This article will show you one technique.
I'm going to start with the presumption, that you are going to use this outline for a book proposal and that you've been a bad author -- your book and your content map, mind-map or design outline is radically different from your end-book. (If this isn't the case, don't worry. I'm only doing it because I want an excuse to do a book proposal).
For a book proposal you need three levels of outline. You need one detailed outline of about three pages. You need another of about 2 to 3 paragraphs. And you need a third of one paragraph.
We're going to start with the detailed outline.
Begin the process by making a list of all the titles and headings in the book. This includes groups of chapters, chapters, topic headings, sub-topics and so on. This will provide the overall structure for your summary. If the book doesn't have formal headings, don't worry. Just use the chapter headings as your headings. If the chapters don't have headings use the chapter numbers. You'll probably be removing them later in any case. You're only going to use them to organize your outline as you write it.
If you've written your book in a normal way, your book is organized into chapters, sections, topics, paragraphs and sentences. You may have some extra groups in there but these are the ones we are interested in for this article.
If you have organized your book in a strict, formal, academic English style, each paragraph is one topic. Each paragraph has an introduction and a conclusion sentence. It probably also has some information in between the two.
If you have used a less formal style some of your topics will extend over multiple paragraphs. There are a lot of reasons you might have done this. But the most important is to keep paragraphs short.
Whichever format you use you need to write a single sentence which summarizes what you are saying for that topic/paragraph. Start by looking at the introductory and the concluding sentence for each paragraph. Based on those sentences write a single sentence that carries the context of the paragraph. As you review look for good candidates to quote.
If you've used a formal style leave a line between each sentence. If you've used a less formal style, leave a line between each topic.
When you've finished, you will have a list of topics and what was said about them. Effectively, you'll have a design outline of the entire book.
For each chapter you are going to write a paragraph regarding the topics in that chapter.
Begin by grouping the topic sentences you've written above. Now write an introductory and concluding sentence for the chapter's paragraph.
When you finish, you'll have a summary or outline which is probably longer than you need. It also probably doesn't really work well on a paragraph by paragraph basis. What you're going to do now is rewrite each paragraph so that it makes more sense and is the required length so the whole is roughly 3 pages. As you work your way through each paragraph check the quotes you've indicated. Add them when you find it appropriate. Just don't overdo it!
You've now finished the first or detailed outline.
Now go back and do the same thing to this outline. The result should be a set of topic sentences for each chapter. Break the topic sentences into roughly three groups. Each will become a paragraph. Write your introductory and concluding sentences. Then rewrite the three paragraphs. This will become your short summary.
Finally, repeat the process for the short summary. This will give you a single paragraph outline of the book which is suitable for the executive summary.
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Glen Ford is an accomplished consultant, trainer and writer. He has far too many years experience as a trainer and facilitator to willingly admit.