Outlining

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 time. For most, this backfires. You may get mid-way through an assignment and wonder, “what else do I have to say?”, “what was my main point?” and “why doesn’t my essay make sense?”

Outlining answers these questions before you invest time in writing an essay or report. Dennis G. Jerz, an associate professor of English at Steton Hill University, 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", arguing 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 final project.

Outlining is a great strategy for:

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

Outlining example: Why use outlining techniques?

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, 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

Used as the first step in the writing process, outlining is 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, create an outline:

  • Begin with a main idea or thesis, which is a short summary of the central idea.
  • Divide and subdivide topics using prefix labels, giving you a basic overview of broad ideas and concepts.
  • 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.

Using essay outline templates or graphic organizer templates, like those found in Inspiration 10, helps users begin the writing process, visualize how to outline and understand how helpful outlining can be.

Outlining in the Classroom

By categorizing bits of information, students can begin compiling notes to build and organize 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 encourage teachers 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, we recognize that not all users learn in the same way, so may not find traditional outlining easy. For many visual learners, starting with a concept map, mind map or idea map feels more natural and makes the process more manageable. Inspiration's Outline View is integrated with the Diagram/ Mind Map View, meaning users can visually develop and organize information in the Diagram/ Mind Map View, before transforming their visual maps into structured outlines with one click to begin the writing process with ease.

From Diagram View to...

Diagram View

Outline View in one click! Ready to begin writing.

Outline View