The writing process can be stressful, especially when you don’t know where to start. That’s why you need to begin with an outline.
An outline is simply a framework for presenting the main and supporting ideas for a particular subject or topic. Outlines help you develop a logical, coherent structure for your paper, making it easier to translate your ideas into words and sentences. Once your outline is complete, you’ll have a clear picture of how you want your paper to develop.
Here are five steps to a strong outline:
- Choose Your Topic and Establish Your Purpose. A lot of writers struggle to define the initial focus for their paper. Trying to come up with a topic from a list of possibilities is a difficult task, but understanding your essay’s larger purpose is just as important. Having a goal or objective in mind will help you set guidelines and limitations on what is appropriate content for your essay. What do you want your readers to learn from reading your paper? What do you want them to understand about your topic? These questions can help you focus your ideas around the specific take-home messages you want to leave with your readers.
- Create A List Of Main Ideas. This is the brainstorming part of the writing process. The goal here is to come up with a list of essential ideas that you are planning to present in your article or essay. This step can be a list of arguments to answer a question, a list of resources, or it could even include tips on how to do something. No matter what the topic is, this step gives you a chance to get all of your ideas out and have a list of possible topics that you can touch on in your essay.
- Organize Your Main Ideas. The goal of this step is to rearrange the list of ideas that you came up with in Step 2, putting them in an order that will make sense to you and the reader. There are many different strategies for organizing your ideas, and these will vary depending on the type of essay you are writing. Some common organizational structures are cause and effect, classification, chronological and process. Once you have put your ideas in order, you’re well on your way to developing the structure of your essay.
- Flush Out Your Main Points. After you have decided on the order of your main points, you’ll want to add some relevant content to help support each main idea. Your goal in this step is to expand upon your original ideas so that your reader has a better understanding of each point. You can add more detail to each concept by including examples, quotes, facts, theories or personal anecdotes. While this step may seem tedious, it will make your drafting process much easier. You’ll save time in the long run because your paper will be more logical and focused and your ideas will be fully developed.
- Review and Adjust. Most people would think that after step four your outline is done, but that is not the case. Writing is a repetitive process, and all good writers continue to review and revise their essay until they feel it is the best it can possibly be. The same goes for an outline; it should be like a roadmap that you use to direct your essay exactly where you want it to go. Make sure that you’ve included all of your ideas and established the connections between each of your main points.
Although outlining may seem like a long process, it will make the writing process a much easier experience. Once you have your outline completed, all the hard work is done. You’re ready to start putting your ideas into full sentences and writing a logical, well-developed essay.
Brandon Ramey, Marketing Intern at Herzing University, is currently a junior college student studying a degree in Business Marketing. Once he graduates, Brandon aspires to go back to graduate school for an MBA in Marketing.
* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2021. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.