Creating a Writing Outline

A writing outline is a great way to organize your ideas. Although an outline is a great brainstorming activity, you should only use an outline when you have a clear thesis. Why? Because if you haven’t really decided what points you want to discuss in your paper, then writing an outline can seem tedious.

Without having a clear idea of what you want to write about or some ideas, it is hard to organize them. If you are stuck on what to write, click here to try these other pre-writing techniques to get some writing ideas.

An outline is a more formatted way to organize your ideas.

Why do I need to create an outline?

Writing an outline allows you to break down your thesis into parts in a clear and ordered manner. If you haven't yet wrote a thesis, click here for great information on how to write a thesis.

Many people discover that writing an outline before starting a paper is extremely helpful in organizing one’s thoughts.

Although creating an outline may be more time consuming, there are tons of reasons why it can be helpful.

Below are some reasons why you may decide to use a writing outline:

  • To assist you in the writing process
  • To help you organize your thought
  • To present materials in a logical and/or ordered form
  • To breakdown or group relationships between ideas

If you decide that you want to do an outline for your writing, really take the time and develop a great outline. A well written and thought-out outline will make your paper easier to write.


So...How do You create an outline?

The basic format for an outline involves alternating between a series of numbers and letters. These letters and numbers are indented to show the level of importance as well as the placement in your paper.

  1. First try to decide what the purpose for your assignment is.
  2. Determine who your audience is
  3. Create your thesis. Your thesis is the main ideas you want to discuss in your paper. Not sure how to write a thesis? Click here for help.
  4. Brainstorm your ideas. Click here to see how to brainstorm your writing ideas.
  5. Arrange and label your ideas: Create main and subheadings. Your main headings will be more general and abstract ideas, while your subheadings will be more specific and concrete information.

*NOTE: You do not have to follow this method. Whether you follow these writing outline suggestions is up to you, but making any kind of outline (even just writing down some main ideas) will be beneficial to your writing process.

Check out this sample writing outline pdf a student turned in on abortion

You do not need to use the same letter and number format. Everyone outlines differently. An outline is not something you would typically turn in, so do what works best for you.

Remember: Find a system of organizing your ideas that work for you. Click here to see a list of prewriting writing ideas that can help you decide on a method.

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