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June 12, 2015

The Art of the Pre-Draft

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If you are a seasoned content writer or SEO pro, chances are you are constantly plugging away on the next piece to put up on your site. It is often cyclical. Examine industry trends, research a topic, tabulate, and then type. Sure, many talented writers have their own styles and methods of approach. But for the most part, it’s the same process over and over. Rinse, repeat. Not that there is anything wrong with having a set way of doing things. Any system that works is a good one. However, with content being at such a premium and writers under pressure to keep churning out article after article, some key elements get lost. A litany of mistakes can be found on even the most reputable of websites. Topics are not only redundant, but loosely-structured, as well. All of this is the result of one thing: not having a concise plan of attack.

Anyone who has taken literature classes would probably chuckle at the prospect of doing a “Web” prior to writing an article or blog post. Many regard such a practice as archaic or rudimentary, as if proper editing techniques are somehow beneath them. Or perhaps these experienced content writers figure that there is not enough time in the day to perform pre-drafts and other means of text mapping. Why? Since we all know that search engines, especially Google, place such a high importance on quality of content, wouldn’t it make sense to ensure that pieces are properly arranged? This helps both the writer and the reader. Flow is paramount to effective communication. Having the ability to deliver a message without forcing detail is what separates an established professional writer from someone who is just concerned with earning clicks. Which group do you want to be lumped in with?

It does not take a pronounced background in English literature to have the tools necessary for writing solid content. Simply following a few steps that involve organizing ideas in a congruent manner prior to putting words on page is all it really takes. While eCommerce and SEO writing have a certain scientific property, make no mistake about it writing of any sort takes some artistic prowess and a healthy respect of a reasonable pre-draft process.

What is a Writing Web?

Most folks who can remember back to their high school (or even middle school) days are familiar with a web. The web we’re talking about here has nothing to do with the Internet. An editorial or writing web refers to the method of spotlighting a primary topic and incorporating supporting details. The reach of this method is far and wide. Everyone from high profile book authors to eCommerce copywriters use a web to come up with a hierarchy of ideas. Webs can differ in actual structure, but that is based on aesthetics more than anything. A typical web can be drawn on a piece of notebook paper or even by using the tools on Word or WPS Writer. Here’s how to do it:

Using Paper

  1. Draw a box or circle (your preference) in the middle of a page.
  2. Write what you would like the topic of the article or blog post to be.
  3. Come up with a few ideas that can serve as supporting details or sub-topics.
  4. Draw slightly smaller boxes or circles around the outside of the main topic.
  5. Write phrases or sentences representing each supporting detail.
  6. Connect with lines to the main topic.

Using Word (or WPS Writer)

  1. Click on “Insert” located on the top toolbar.
  2. Select “Shapes.”
  3. Under “Flowchart” choose the shape that you want to work with. The square usually works best.
  4. Use the mouse to adjust the size of box.
  5. Click on “Text Box” on the toolbar.
  6. Similar to how you adjusted the size of the main box, fit the text box inside of the main box.
  7. To place sub-topics or details employ the arrow found in “Connectors” section.
  8. Repeat steps two to seven for any concurrent topics and/or details.

This should not seem like a lot of work (despite the number of steps). It does not take more than a few minutes to come up with the basic structure of a web, regardless of format. Plus, the benefits are substantial. Putting a web in place keeps ideas in order, allowing you to expound upon details and refer to them later. Your writing flow will be cleaner and more easily discerned by readers. Articles will appear focused with more “juice” behind the details. And most importantly, the primary topic will be appropriately supported.

Pre-Draft Methods

I can hear the laughter. The concept of doing a “rough draft” when there are so many other things to do in the day seems like a joke. But it’s not. No one is telling you to prepare your text as if the next great American novel depends on it. What we are discussing here is simply doing a dry run.

Get The Feel

Type out your piece as naturally as you can manage. Use the editorial web as a guide to ensure the body has some meat on its proverbial bones. Just keep going. Mistakes, typos, random words…it doesn’t matter. All you are doing here is trying to establish flow. You can stop at any time but try not to. Unless it’s a 10,000-word epic, you should be able to push through and keep it moving.

When you are done read back what you wrote. You aren’t scrutinizing for errors in grammar or punctuation. Save that for the finished product. Reading it back is to achieve confirmation that you have all that you need to pump out a final draft.

Alternative: The Skeleton

Just like the article you are reading, so much of web content nowadays is predicated on a main topic with a slew of headers to annunciate points. A different approach many writers in a rush prefer is to type all of the headers they will be using throughout the piece and filling in the textual body underneath. In a way, this is webbing in its own right. You gain direction and concision by using this method. The only thing it lacks is a strict attention to detail if you do not have a web in place to refer to.

Understanding the Difference

There are more articles, more blog posts, and more “writers” out in the world everyday. The problem? Many of them are not trained nor are they experienced. They are being called on to deliver piece after piece relating to content marketing, SEO, finance, tech, and everything else. This is good. Content is good. What isn’t is running into articles on established domains that are crammed with run-on sentences, drifting details, and loose structure. A writer who cares is a writer who prepares. Taking a little extra time to put a plan in place is the difference between someone who is a writer and someone who writes. If you are already writing but are without professional experience otherwise, don’t worry – you have this in you. Any marketing maven or tech blogger can take the next step in their writing with a little pre-drafting to lead the way!


Timothy Hands is the content manager for Along with having experience as a copywriter and SEO consultant, Hands is also a professionally credited editor whose works include reference material and financial literature.