Create a basic outline for your nonfiction book

Many people have great ideas for nonfiction books, and given their experiences – recovering from an illness, working for years in a profession, solving a perplexing issue – they are ideal experts to write such a title. Unfortunately, they never get around to writing the book because they don’t know how to get started. 

To get started writing, always take a great idea and create an outline for it. This outline then guides the research and writing. To come up with an outline, think like a journalist. A reporter when interviewing for and writing a story always seeks to answer the 5 W’s and 1 H – who, what, why, when, where and how. 

Using the 5 W’s and 1 H, you can create an outline to get you thinking about what to write and how to organize the book. Using this always helps ensure you are complete when writing on the subject. For example, the following would work as a chapter-by-chapter outline using the 5 W’s and 1 H:

• Introduction (who) “Do you want…”
• What is_________
Which types of _________
• Why (advantages) _________
• Why not (disadvantages) __________
• Where to ___________
• When to __________
• How to _________
• How not to _________ (common pitfalls)
• Conclusion (offer encouragement)

Suppose you were penning an informative guide to trekking poles (the walking sticks that backpackers use). The above outline for a book about that topic might look like this:

• Introduction (who needs a trekking pole) “Do you want to make hiking easier?”
• What is a trekking pole (its history, its parts)
Which type of trekking poles are available (wood vs. aluminum)
• Why you would use a trekking pole (advantages)
• Why you might not want to use a trekking pole (disadvantages, or situations when a trekking pole is unnecessary)
• Where to purchase a trekking pole
• When to use a trekking pole
• How to use a trekking pole
• How not to use a trekking pole (common misuses)
• Conclusion (offer encouragement – how hiking will be easier)

Remember that an outline always is a flexible framework; you never need to rigidly follow it. In the trekking pole outline, for example, you might move the “situations when a trekking pole is unnecessary” section to after the “when to use a trekking pole” chapter, or perhaps even combine them into a single chapter.

Also, note that not all of these sections may apply to your specific topic. In addition, some may be longer than others, as well.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.