Importance Of An Outline For An Essay

Creating an Outline

Once a topic has been chosen, ideas have been generated through brainstorming and free writing, and a working thesis has been created, the last step a writer can perform in the prewriting stage is creating an outline. An outline allows a writer to categorize the main points, to organize the paragraphs into an order that makes sense, and to make sure that each paragraph/idea can be fully developed. Essentially, an outline helps prevent a writer from getting stuck when performing the actual writing of the essay. 

An outline provides a map of where to go with the essay. A well-developed outline will show what the thesis of the essay is, what the main idea of each body paragraph is, and the evidence/support that will be offered in each paragraph to substantiate the main points. 

The following is an example of an outline:

Thesis: In order to succeed in the classroom, college students need to utilize the resources available to them throughout their college careers.

  1. Advising
    1.  Find the right program(s) and/or career field
    2. Implement a plan for fulfilling program requirements
    3. Sign up for the correct classes
      1. Verify prerequisites
      2. Find times that work
      3. Locate proper instructor
    4. Evaluate progress
  2. Help with content
    1. Study groups
    2. Tutoring
      1. Drop-in
      2. Individual
    3. SI sessions
  3. Technology
    1. Computer Labs
    2. Academic websites
    3. Forums and online discussions

In this example, the Roman numerals I, II, and III are each of the body paragraphs that will appear in the essay. Next to each Roman numeral is the central idea behind each paragraph and how it relates to the essay’s main point (or thesis). The letters that appear under each Roman numeral show the details that will be offered in each paragraph to support the main idea of the paragraph. If some of the details require multiple explanations, these are noted with numbers under the letters.

Notice all that the above outline accomplishes: The main ideas/paragraphs of the essay have been grouped into an order that makes sense; the main idea behind each paragraph is identified along with the support that will be offered. Essentially, the essay is completely organized. Now the writer can simply follow the outline and turn each idea into a paragraph by expanding on the details that are present. 

While creating an outline such as this will take a small amount of time, the time put into creating this outline should result in saving even more time during the writing phase. If following the outline, the writer should not get stuck wondering what comes next or how to expand upon an idea. 

If you are a confident enough writer or simply looking for a way to shorten the writing process, you may find yourself skipping the step of writing an outline for your paper and going right into the first draft; however, outlines are an important step in the writing process that should not be breezed over. They can help you to brainstorm and lay out your ideas in such an organized way that, when it comes to writing the actual paper, the job will be much easier.

Just last week, a student came into the MTMC looking to put together her first draft of a Global Issues essay. We sat down with a blank piece of paper, and she started to think of the perfect sentence to begin her introduction paragraph.

“Do you want to write an outline first?” I asked her.

“No, I don’t normally do those. They seem like a waste of time,” she replied.

Instead of pushing the idea of the outline, I asked her to explain to me how she would like to organize her paper. She explained that first she would write the introduction, then a paragraph about environment, next a paragraph about population, followed by a paragraph about sustainability, and then a conclusion. All the while, I wrote down these sections labeled with roman numerals. I handed the paper to her. It was a very simple outline for her paper.

Next, we broke her body paragraphs down even further, creating sub-bullets under the paragraph main ideas with examples from articles that would supplement her arguments in those sections. By the end of our appointment, we had a detailed, organized outline put together.

The student left our appointment with the outline in hand and came back the next day to have her actual draft looked over. She said that the outline immensely helped when she sat down to write her essay since the plan was already laid out in front of her.

Although outlines may seem tedious to some students, it is always helpful to encourage students to complete them since it will make the writing process that much easier.

- written by Janelle Scheck

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