Online Writing Lab

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.