You’ve researched your topic, taken copious notes, created a mind map, made lists, but you haven’t settled on the best way to organize all of your material. You aren’t sure how to structure your chaotic work in progress.
Well, here’s another: zoom in or zoom out.
Could that work?
The Zoom In/Zoom Out Outline
This ready-made outline is pretty straightforward. You pick a starting point for your topic and from there, you zoom in or out.
If you start big and broad, you can progressively zoom in on the topic so the analysis or story ends with a narrow, focused perspective or impact.
If you start at a smaller point, you gradually zoom out to offer a broader application or conclusion.
Example: Zoom In
Let’s say you want to analyze an issue that concerns you—an opinion piece about civility.
You can start at a high level, offering a broad analysis of how the nation is shifting its behavior and language so that cultural norms related to civility have shifted—your stance is that the United States as a whole is losing something important as it moves away from civility as an unspoken value. You cite studies and quote experts.
Then you zoom in to make observations at the local level based on a recent news event that happened in your city. You quote law enforcement or religious leaders who claim they’ve seen a change over the past decade in how people treat one another at public events and gatherings.
Finally, you zoom in to challenge readers to consider the degree to which they themselves have changed and if their behavior and speech reflects the level of civility they’d like to see in themselves and others.
Example: Zoom Out
Of course, this structure is easily reversed. You can start small and zoom out.
You may have seen the TED Talk “For more wonder, rewild the world.” In this talk, George Monbiot explains “trophic cascades.” A trophic cascade, he says, is “an ecological process that starts at the top of the food chain and tumbles all the way to the bottom.”
You can see how this subject matter lends itself to a zoom structure, especially the classic example he uses to illustrate his point. I’m thinking of it as zooming out.
He talks about how wolves had been absent from Yellowstone National Park for over 70 years. During that time, herds of deer built up because they lacked a predator, and they grew to increasingly large numbers and grazed down much of the native vegetation.
Then a few wolves were introduced to the park. Monbiot begins his structure here, I think, as he starts with the wolves. After establishing context, he directs our attention to those few wolves as a narrow, focused starting point.
The wolves killed some of the deer, of course, but they also changed the behavior of the herds so that they grazed in new locations, allowing vegetation to mature in valleys that then “regenerated.” Monbiot zooms out and describes the changes: trees grew, birds returned, beavers increased and built dams where more species could grow.
Monbiot keeps going with his presentation, citing one change after another that led to more and more areas of the park transforming. He zoomed out, eventually zooming out far enough to consider the rivers, claiming they changed course due to these impacts.
Starting small, with those few wolves, he zooms out all the way to the rivers, so we can celebrate the rejuvenated, rewilded national park.
Try This Outline On Your Work in Progress
Whichever direction you zoom, this structure offers a simple way to experiment with your content: You can start big and zoom in, or start small and zoom out—macro to micro, or micro to macro.
You could zoom in by following the path of a decision or policy put into place by a government or company and show how it trickled down to impact a family or individual.
You could zoom out by describing how a random act of kindness ended up becoming a societal-level movement or how a single word of encouragement transformed a person who went on to change the world.
Use the zoom in/zoom out ready-made outline to structure an example that illustrates one of the key points in a chapter or to structure the chapter itself. It could work to organize an entire book or a single blog post.
Whichever direction you go, in or out, this gives you an easy way to organize your material and structure your work in progress. Not everything fits this outline, but try it. See if the pieces of your project fall into place.
- For more wonder, rewild the world (George Monbiot’s TED Talk)
- For Writers Who Struggle with Structure…a Remedy (Ep 215)
- Are Outlines a Writer’s Greatest Gift…or Curse? (Ep 214)
- A Writer’s Guide to ROI series
- Next-Level Writer series
- Write to Discover series
- All podcast episodes
- (note: photos sourced through Stencil or Pixabay)
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