Monday, July 21, 2014

Outlining an Essay

The thesis goes on the outline, then the topic sentence, then the evidence.
Are you skipping or under-utilizing this important step in the writing process?

Having trouble writing essays?  It may not be that you're a bad writer. You just could be skipping or under-utilizing one of the most important steps in the writing process: outlining.

Outlining helps writers save time, focus on main ideas, write more clearly, and add coherence to essays.

Outlining Saves Time

Before writing an essay, you should create an outline to help you organize your thesis, main ideas, and evidence.  Using the outline to pre-plan an essay helps you save time by helping you ensure that what you put down on the page the first time is what you mean to put down on the page the first time.  You will spend less time revising and editing drafted paragraphs if you spend some time planning key ideas before you  draft complete paragraphs.

Outlining Helps Writers Establish Unity

When outlining, you should begin by placing your thesis statement on your outline so that it leads all of your additional points.  Next, add your topic sentences, the complete thoughts you're going to give the reader that each support a piece of your thesis statement.  This will help you ensure overall unity for the entire essay.  Then, add your evidence under each appropriate topic sentence. This will help ensure unity within individual paragraphs. The lead-in and summary portions of the introduction and conclusion can be added last.

One type of outline that is familiar to most people is a table of contents.  Notice how writers break their ideas into main ideas and sub ideas in a table of contents, and information about those ideas can be found under those particular subheadings.  The same idea applies to an outline for a paper.

Outlining  Helps Writers Maintain Clarity

Placing all of your ideas on an outline after prewriting can help you maintain clarity.  You can look at an outline, each of its parts, to check whether or not you have included enough evidence to support each main idea or topic sentence.  You may realize, when you glance at the outline, that all of your evidence supports only one or two topic sentences and that other topic sentences are left unsupported.  If that's the case, you can complete some research, do some more prewriting to brainstorm examples, reword your ideas, or combine ideas to better balance and support your thesis.

Outlining Helps Ensure Organization and Coherence

Simply writing an essay start to finish as ideas occur to you will make for a very unorganized mess of ideas. Unorganized messes of ideas make for very bad reading, and you want all of your ideas to be understood by your reader, right?  An outline can help you organize your ideas effectively.  Once your ideas are on the outline, you can rearrange them to suit your purpose.  For example, if your purpose is to compare and contrast solutions to a problem, you can look at your outline and determine if the order in which you've placed your ideas will help your reader see the similarities and differences easily.  If not, you can rearrange ideas on an outline a whole lot easier than you can rearrange ideas after you've drafted entire paragraphs.

The steps in the writing process are tried and true, but oftentimes new writers skip steps in order to "write faster."  In the end, it doesn't pay off, and those writers spend more time revising for major errors.  Skipping the outlining step in the writing process could prove to be detrimental to an essay's unity, coherence, and clarity.

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