Outlining What You Will Write

Your planning outline will probably be informal at first as you think in writing and organize your thoughts. As with your thesis, you may revise your outline many times before you are ready to draft your paper, as you gain knowledge of your topic and make decisions about how to organize the information for your audience. In fact, some instructors may even require you to create a planning outline of your paper first and submit it for review.

Outlining is just another way to organize your ideas and can be used at every stage of the writing process. Especially in the planning stages, outlining may be informal—a scratch list of points you want to make. Ideas are often simply jotted down in an order that appears to make sense to the writer in thinking about the topic. At a more developed stage, an outline may expand on several aspects of the thesis and controlling idea.

A formal outline, on the other hand, may contain complete sentences that expand on the major and minor supporting statements for the clearly delineated thesis statement. How formal and detailed your outline is depends on the demands of the writing task and what kind of writer you are.

To summarize, outlining can help you plan and manage your writing assignment in several ways:

  • It helps you organize information.
  • It facilitates sharing information with your peers and your instructor to see if you are on the right track.
  • It helps you think in writing as you are deciding what to say in your first draft.

When you can see all the main information items in your writing project, you can then plan your research and writing schedule.

Outlining can be a useful tool for deciding how to organize the body of the paper.


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