Ghostwriters: Can card sorting help you organize a large project?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Most of you know that in addition to overseeing the Association of Ghostwriters, I also run my own ghostwriting and freelance writing business. My business name is Layton & Co., Inc., and although I’ve billed through my corporation for decades, I’m just now setting up an online presence for it. It’s very fun and exciting.

Today, while discussing the site’s structure with my graphic designer, she suggested using card sorting as a way to identify all the different pages and then be able to move them around visually until I settle on the best format for the site. This made a lot of sense. I also thought card sorting might be useful as a tool for identifying all the topics to be covered in a ghostwriting project, including things like:

  • sources
  • statistics
  • quotes
  • subjects
  • illustrations
  • websites
  • books
  • reports and studies
  • experts
  • and other elements.

Based on my rudimentary understanding, the technique sounds a lot like my seventh grade social studies project on the Tasaday, at that time a newly-discovered tribe on the Philippine island of Mindanao. My challenge in seventh grade, which is still my challenge at the start of any large project, is how to keep track of all the pieces of interesting information I may want to include in my article, book, or blog post.

Back then, we used index cards stored in a recipe box and put a single idea or quote or fact on each card. Today there are higher tech versions of index cards, but I’m not convinced they’re any better. Once we seventh graders had filled our cards with useful facts, figures, and quotes, the next step was to lay them out and decide which cards went together, and in what order. That’s pretty much what card sorting is.

While card sorting is used primarily in website design, it can just as easily and effectively be used when planning out the best information flow for a white paper or case study or memoir. Keeping track of disparate experts, data, and events can be a challenge.

So on my current website design project, I’ve already cracked open a new pack of index cards. I’m tempted to use them on the business book I’m starting work on, too.

What tools do you use to keep track of all your data on big writing projects?


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Marcia Layton Turner

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