4 Steps to Outline your Course or Book Content

Before you jump into writing content, you need to layout the groundwork. You wouldn’t take a road trip without first reviewing a map. The same goes for creating courses. You’ve got to create the course “map” or outline before you create your content.

If you decide to jump into creating content without an outline you’re likely to run into some big problems. Here are two of the biggest:

#1) You won’t have any focus. You’re content will be all over the place and you’re going to confuse not only your students, but also yourself.

#2) You’ll likely wind up adding far more content than what’s necessary. One of the key ideas to really get down is that more does NOT equal better. Your students want results and sometimes more is LESS when it comes to helping them get into action and seeing results. And after all, isn’t that the goal with your course?

You’re going to break down the outline process into FOUR stages:

  1. Brain dump
  2. Categorize
  3. Filter
  4. Formula

When you put all of this together you want to consider four key goals for your students:

#1) Take them from where they are to where they want to go

#2) Get them there using the shortest and easiest path possible

#3) Break the journey down into individual steps (step-by-step system)

#3) Move them into action that will deliver the desired results

As you create your step-by-step system I’m going to challenge you to keep it to no more than 7 steps. Think of the 5-7 stages for walking your students from where they are to where they want to go. Anything more can get overwhelming and might be a sign that you have more than one course that you could create on this topic. So definitely consider creating additional courses to supplement your online business moving forward.

I’ll give you an example using the book you’re reading right now:

  1. Research your topic
  2. Craft your name
  3. Outline your content
  4. Create your content
  5. Get your content online
  6. Making your first sale
  7. Beyond your first sale

Now, let’s jump in…

Brain Dump

The brain dump is just what it sounds like. You want to start with dumping all of the ideas you can think of related to your topic onto paper, a Word document, a whiteboard or whatever works best for your style.

Don’t spend days doing this. You’ll NEVER get all of the content that you want to share into your course and if you did you would just overwhelm your students.

Take 3-4 hours at the MOST for this part.

Here are a few categories that you can use to get started with the Brain Dump:

  • Resources
  • Tips
  • Principles
  • Concepts
  • Stories
  • Case studies
  • Pictures & diagrams
  • Checklists
  • Examples

You might even create separate pages or stacks of index cards for each of these categories. Then spend 10-15 minutes dumping all of the info you can think of for each one.


If you didn’t do so during the Brain Dump exercise, it’s now time to put all of your ideas into categories so that you can make sense of all of the information. Use the list above to get going and make up your own as you need.

Here’s a list of helpful tools to keep organized:

  • Mind mapping software
    • Sourceforge.net is great
  • Index cards
  • White board
  • Pad of paper
  • Colored pens or markers

Believe it or not, I tend to use a combination of all of these when I’m moving through the Brain Dump and Categorize phases.

I’ll start with a pad of paper and my white board to get the big concepts out of my head.

Then I move bullet points to index cards so I can categorize a bit easier. I can also use the index cards to add new ideas that pop up.

I’ve recently started using mind mapping software and it can be a great tool once you get comfortable with it. This is where I start to fine tune my categories and the actual order of things.

And when it’s time to create my actual content, I move my outline to Keynote slides so that I can create video tutorials by recording the slide show.


Once you get started dumping and categorizing content, you probably won’t find a problem coming up with plenty of material for your new course. Often times the challenge is keeping it succinct enough to get your students into action.

The concept with filtering your content is to share ONLY what is necessary to get your students into action and nothing more.

Two places you can get really carried away with overdoing content are the number of steps in your “system” and the number of resources you recommend for any one application.

Remember, you want to create a 5-7 step system that guides your students from where they are to where they want to go.

Don’t get into trouble trying to impress your students. They’ve already purchased your course. The only goal is to get them into action. Anything else is not going to help build your ongoing learning platform.

When it comes to resources, less is more. Why share five resources if one will do? You’d just be putting the decision-making into the hands of your students when it’s your job to guide them.

Sometimes one resource won’t do. There might be different applications, price points, skill required, etc, but when you introduce multiple resources for the same or similar application be sure to explain why they’re different so that your students can easily decide which is best for them.

For example, when I teach how to record audio, I recommend 3 options:

  1. Audacity (my preferred choice)
    1. Simple software for either Mac or PC
    2. Free
    3. Can record AND edit audio
    4. Exceptional sound quality
    5. SOME technology required (easier than Garage Band in my experience)
  2. Garage Band
    1. For Mac users only
    2. Can record AND edit audio
    3. Exceptional sound quality
    4. Perfect if you’re already familiar with using it
  3. Free mobile device “voice recorder” apps
    1. Very good sound quality, but limited or no editing features
    2. Free
    3. Very little technology involved

As you can see, the student can select the best option based on ease of use, technology involved and type of computer they’re on.


Now it’s time to take all of the information you’ve compiled and turn it into a simple, cohesive course outline.

I follow a modified version of the 4MAT model for outlining my content. You can learn more about 4MAT here: http://www.aboutlearning.com/what-is-4mat

Here’s how to get started.

Come up with your 5-7 big steps or stages that you’re going to walk your students through. Refer to the beginning of this chapter for review if you need.

Then break EACH step down using the following formula:

  1. What
  2. Why
  3. How-to
  4. What now

Let’s take each of these one at a time.


This is as simple as giving a very brief description of the step you’re about to cover. The reason you do this is to create context for what’s to come.

Imagine for a moment that you’re a passenger in a car. It might be uncomfortable to be driving around not knowing where you’re going. You know there’s an end to the trip, but you’re not sure where or when and it creates confusion and frustration.

Think about your course like you’re taking your students on a journey. Be considerate and let them know where they are 😉

Here’s how the “What” might sound.

“In this module we’re going to dive into exactly how to create a course title that grabs attention and helps to package the desired result your students are looking for. Let’s go.”

That’s it! Keep it simple, but don’t skip it.

2) WHY

Now you’re going to explain why this step is important. Rather than jumping right into all of the how-to information be sure to explain the importance of working on this step. Without this key component your students might feel that they can skip over this particular step. Especially if there’s some actual work involved 😉

We live in a society wired for instant gratification and many folks will stop in their tracks at the first sign of hard work. Getting someone to get a result that they haven’t been able to achieve on their own WILL take work. And depending on what you help people with, it might be a LOT of work.

Be sure to point out the importance of each step that you teach. What are some pitfalls if they skip this part? What are some possible results if they DO this?


This is the “meat and potatoes” of your course content. This is where you get to do your thing and teach. There are a couple ways to get moving with the how-to information.

#1) You can reverse engineer what it will take to get to the end result. Where are your students going to be right before the next step? If you were to move the timeline backward, how might that journey look?

#2) Simply chronicle the journey moving forward. In many cases you might be creating a course based on a result that you’ve achieved yourself. You might have built a successful career as a sales person and you’re going to show others how to do the same. Or maybe you lost a significant amount of weight and created habits that allowed you to keep the pounds off.

If so, go back in time and recall the steps that you took to get where you are today. Now, walk your students down that same path.


Depending on how much information you shared in the “How-To” part you might need to give a specific action that you want your students to take NOW. What should they do as soon as they’re done with this step?

In some cases the “How-To” is very straight forward and not too involved and that can act as the “What Now.” Just be sure that there’s a logical action step for your students to take and tell them EXACTLY what to do and how to do it.

Without the “What Now” a lot of people will simply power through your course and walk away without taking real action. In a perfect world, people would download one course at a time and take action on everything they learn. But that’s not quite the world we live in.

Even if that’s your way of doing things, be sure to understand that this is NOT the norm. People are overwhelmed with distractions. They want one thing today and another tomorrow. But if they invested in your course then they showed that they were serious. At least yesterday. Help them achieve results by giving them specific actions to take.

Do The Beginning Last…

Once you’re done with your content outline, you’ll want to add an introduction for your course. I always wait until all of my main content is complete before doing this. The reason is that I want to review the content and explain during the introduction what it is that I’ll be teaching.

If you create your introduction before you get started with the main content then you’ll just have to re-do the intro if you change up the content.

Does the make sense? You need to have flexibility as you’re getting started with the content. You want to work off of your outline, but you might find that the order of things needs to change a bit or you decide to remove some content.

So be sure to wait until everything is complete and THEN create a short introduction explaining what’s going to be covered in the course.

Think of the introduction as your course’s Table of Contents. All that you need to do is introduce what’s going to be covered and the order that it will be covered.

I’ve created a free Fill-in-the-Blanks Outline Formula for you if you want to use that to guide you through the process. Just go here to download that now.

SEND LINK TO: http://www.workathomepop.com/poc-book-tools/

Once your outline is complete, it’s time to start creating your actual course content. We’ll dig into that in the next chapter.

About the Author

Leave a Reply 0 comments

Leave a Reply: