How to outline a paperLearn more about how to outline a paper in this post.

Are you struggling with how to outline a paper? Check out our tips below.

How to outline a paper

While you might have learned how to outline a paper at some point in your life, sometimes it’s hard to apply what you’ve learned to your situation. Outlining doesn’t have to be an intense process. Stephanie Guedet, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of English at Concordia University Wisconsin & Ann Arbor. Guedet shares three tips to help you outline your paper.

How to outline a paper
Stephanie Guedet, Ph.D.

3 Tips for outlining your paper

Tip #1 Organize your outline in a way that makes sense to YOU.

A lot of students feel pressured to make their outlines “fancy.” Your outline does not need to be fancy at all. Guedet insists that for an outline to work, it only needs to organize your thoughts and information. She says, “You don’t need to worry about all of the aspects of outlining you might have learned in school–making sure you have parallel points, using the correct Roman numerals, writing in complete sentences.”

Instead, Guedet suggests, you can make your outline more organic. Simply note the points you want to be sure to include and in what possible order. Think of your outline as a starting point, but don’t stick to it if your writing reveals a more interesting direction.

Tip #2 Skip the outline altogether.

Yep, you read that correctly. If you’re struggling to write a traditional outline, Guedet suggests using a more visual form of pre-writing instead. She says, “Don’t outline! Some students prefer a more open-ended, visual form of prewriting or organization.”

Guedet suggests using a mind map instead. She has found that the structure of a mind map can be helpful for connecting your ideas and pushing your thoughts in new directions.


Download our free mind map!


Tip #3 Outline after you write.

Guedet points out that you might need to do some writing to discover how you feel about a topic. “That’s the power of writing!” she says. This depends on the assignment, of course, but it could be a useful approach. Outlining can be useful to students when it’s used as a tool for making revisions, according to Guedet. She says, “After you’ve written your draft, create an outline that reflects what the draft is currently ‘saying.'”

To create a new draft:

  1. Try to summarize each paragraph with a sentence.
  2. Copy the sentences into a separate document.
  3. Revise the order of the sentences, if necessary. Consider what might be missing. Would any of these sentences fit better elsewhere?
  4. Rearrange your sentences into an outline.


Wrapping it up

When you’re writing on a deadline and with specific instructions, the pressure can feel overwhelming. As you brainstorm and outline, try to relax as much as possible. Remember Prof. Guedet’s tips to help take the pressure off and get your ideas flowing. This is your piece of writing, and you can approach it however you choose. C.S. Lewis famously said: “You can make anything by writing.” Whether you’re writing for school, work, or for personal reasons, you can enjoy the process of making something uniquely yours.

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