Outlining is Your Friend

Discussion created by pentagess270 on May 14, 2018

The thought of outlining before writing a big paper might intimidate some and seem like a colossal waste of time to others.  But what I have learned from my years of writing papers for myself and editing many, many papers for other people is that the use of simple outlining goes a long way in making a more organized and complete paper in the long run, as well as one that will get you the grade you want.


Not Your High School English Teacher's Outline


Some people's earliest memories of outlining for paper writing may be high school English class, where you were forced to craft a highly formulaic, overly nitpicky outline that you had to turn in with your paper to prove you knew how to outline and that you had started work on the paper before midnight the night before it was due.  Unfortunately, the benefits of outlining may have been lost to most back then, as the tool really became more of an added hindrance than a help.


Ideally, the purpose of outlining should be to help a writer organize his or her thoughts logically and completely before the writing process begins.  Whether you have to turn in an outline for credit or not, your outline should be an important tool for you to know exactly what you'll write about in each and every paragraph, as well as to make sure you don't leave anything important out.


Outlining also helps tremendously with the flow and transitions in a paper.  I've seen a lot of work where it is evident that the writer did not use an outline before writing because the paragraphs jump from thought to thought in random, completely unorganized ways with no smooth transitions in between.  Without using an outline, some writers tend to forget important points they wanted to touch on in a paper until much later, only to make for a jumbled mess of thoughts that jump around and back to points that were already covered (and should have been done so completely with the first mention, not the fourth).


The process of outlining doesn't have to be formal or complicated, however.  Outlining a basic, eight-page essay should take one only about 20 minutes at most, and can be done on a piece of scrap paper.  And while we had to use roman numerals and extensive subheads in high school, these days an outliner should concentrate more on making the outline a useful map of what they are about to write (so if you don't know all your roman numerals, don't sweat it - just use regular Arabic numerals instead and save the subheads for larger papers).  For instance, here's the simple outline I wrote for this article:


Outlining is Your Friend

  1. Intro - Why outlining is good
  2. The benefits of outlining
  3. preconceived notions
  4. organization and completeness
  5. flow and transitions
  6. it's simple to do
  7. sample outline of article

III.  The parts of an outline

  1. Intro
  2. Body
  3. points and sub-points
  4. using subheads in the paper
  5. Summary
  6. Summary


The Parts of an Outline


The first paragraph of a paper, known as the introduction, should state the general purpose of the paper and serve as a summary for what you are going to talk about throughout the paper. The intro is typically three to four sentences in length and is very straightforward. Often times, it is even enough to simply state in the intro, "The purpose of this paper is to..." to let the reader know exactly what they should expect. Therefore, the first point in an outline will always be the introduction.


The body of the paper is definitely the meatiest portion, and will hence be the most detailed part of your outline. This is where people tend to get overwhelmed with outlining, but they really shouldn't. Think of the outline as a work in progress. If you only get the basic points you want to cover down, that is better than nothing at all. But if, during the writing process, some more details come to you that should be points in their own right on your outline, simply add them in. As I outlined for this article, I started with the basic layout of:


Outlining is Your Friend
I. Intro - Why outlining is good
II. The benefits of outlining
III. The parts of an outline
IV. Summary


After I was confident that those were all of the main points I wanted to include, then I went back and added in the sub-points to touch on. And for more complicated papers, writers can add even more detailed second sub-points under their first ones (it really just depends on the subject one is writing about and its depth). For instance, if one were to write a 15-page essay on the history of pie, a detailed outline might look something like this:


The History of Pie

I. Intro
II. Where and When It Starts
a. Pie in Germany
b. Pie in the U.K.
i. Meat pies
ii. Dessert pies
III. Pie Today
a. Fruit pies
i. Apple pies
a) Dutch apple
b) French apple
c) Sour cream apple
b. Cream pies
i. Banana cream
ii. Chocolate cream
c. Meat pies
i. Shepard's pie
ii. Pot pies
a) Chicken
b) Beef
c) Turkey


This would obviously be a more detailed paper because of the large scope of the subject. It's good to note that when one is writing a paper this broad, using some subheads within the text (such as the one above this section of this article entitled "The Parts of an Outline") really helps give your paper a neater, more organized appearance. This will also give the reader some "road signs" to remind them of what the intro told them they were going to read about.


The summary should be the last paragraph of the paper and should act as a very general wrap up of the paper as a whole. Two or three sentences will do just fine. The purpose here is to reiterate what the paper was about and to bring closure to the proofreading essay.


Speaking of Summaries


So in sum, outlining is an essential tool for any writer out there - whether you're hammering out a simple three-page paper or working on your doctoral dissertation. Give outlining a try next time you write and you'll see that your finished product comes out more complete, more polished and with a smoother flow just by using an outline as your guide.