Introduction to Outlining

If you don’t understand the benefits of outlining you may be inclined to skip the prewriting process, thinking it will save them time. Yet for most, this backfires. as you may get mid-way through an assignment and wonder, “What else do I have to say?” or “What was my main point?” and “Why doesn’t my essay make sense?”

Outlining answers these questions before you invest time in writing and essay or report. Dennis G. Jerz, an associate professor of English at Steton Hill University in Greensburg, PA, makes a great comparison of two students who begin writing with and without outlines in his blog post titled, “Outlines: How They Can Improve Your Writing.” He says that outlines can help students write “better work, in less time.” He argues that there’s little to lose by creating an outline. You can jump around with ideas, make multiple attempts, backtrack and explore the essay without investing too much time in a finished product.

Outlining techniques is a great strategy for

  • Writing essays and reports
  • Note taking
  • Creating business plans
  • Producing legal documents
Outlining Example

Definition of an Outline

An outline is a preliminary summary of written work, typically hierarchically organized in headings and subheadings.

 Benefits of Outlining

Used to organize one’s thoughts and information related to a project or paper, outlining helps users clarify their ideas. Structuring and organizing large volumes of information and research in a traditional outline is the first step in the writing process. Additionally, outlines help demonstrate the thinking process behind an essay or report which can help show a teacher where a student may need help or further instruction.

How to Outline

Viewed as the first step in the writing process and the best way to organize notes and large amounts of information, outlines help users build notes, essays and reports in a structured way.

Before diving into writing a paper, begin with a main idea or thesis which is a short summary of the central idea about which the user will write. Divide and subdivide topics and ideas using an alternating series of letters and numbers:

As users order their outline, they begin with a basic overview, broad ideas and concepts. Then users support those ideas with more specific examples or supporting facts. An outline can be fine-tuned by editing, rearranging and changing priorities of topics and subtopics.

Providing users with essay outline templates or graphic organizer templates like those found in Inspiration 9 to begin their writing process can help them to better visualize how to outline and begin to understand how helpful outlining can be.   

Outlining in the Classroom

By grouping bits of information and categorizing, students can begin compiling notes, building and organizing essays. As they place notes into categories they can easily find pieces of information that don’t fit with the overall theme of their subject and edit accordingly. We encouragesteachers to emphasize the importance of pre-writing steps such as brainstorming and outlining, in order to help students write more cohesive and complete essays.

Tools to Help With Outlining

Inspiration has a powerful, but easy-to-use outlining tool built into the software. This outlining tool makes it easy for users to arrange and rearrange their notes in a way that makes the most sense to them.

However, not all users find traditional outlining easy. For more visual learners, starting with a concept map, mind map or idea map feels more natural and makes the process more manageable. We recognize that not every user learns in the same way. With an integrated Outline and Diagram/ Mind Map view, users can begin the writing process with ease after visually developing and organizing information in the Diagram/ Mind Map View then, transform their visual maps into structured outlines with one click.