The Wonderful World of Outlines

by Gabby Tetreault

Have you ever looked at an assignment and just shut down? I know I have, and I still do every now and then. Sometimes it can be really hard to know where to start even, let alone how to write the entire paper and actually have it make sense! But I’ve learned a trick that helps me with this struggle, and that trick is the same thing your teachers have been telling you for years: just make an outline! I know it might seem simplistic, but making an outline can really help you understand where you’re going with the paper. It doesn’t have to be really detailed; it can have as little or as much information as you want in it. It’s just helpful to have something to work from. For me, I sometimes make a few versions of an outline. Each has only a general idea for each paragraph, just so I know what overall topics I want to talk about. Later, I make another one that has more detail about what is going to be in the paper. This step makes actually writing the assignment so much easier; once you make a thorough outline, half the work is already done! These are some of the things I try to include in my more detailed outline, or just add to my general outline to give it more detail:

  • A thesis, or at least a general claim or controlling idea for the paper
  • A list of topics to include in my introduction
  • A general topic for each body paragraph
    • What arguments I am going to use to support the topic in each body paragraph
    • What sources I want to use and where I want to use them
  • What to say in the conclusion

Remember, these are just examples of some things that could be done with an outline There are no hard and fast rules that you have to follow every time. Also, just because you make an outline it doesn’t mean that you need to stick to it exactly. In fact, I almost never do! Just having the ideas written down in some kind of form makes me feel more prepared, and once I start writing I often end up changing around the order or even what ideas I am going to include. It doesn’t matter in the end how you make or use the outline, it’s just for you to have as a way to organize your thoughts. So maybe next time you get an assignment, especially a really long and confusing one, try making an outline first and see if it helps. I know it does for me!

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About BentleyWritingCenter

This is the official blog of the Bentley University Writing Center staff.
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