Why You NEED an Outline for Essay

Now, we’re going to talk about the importance of creating an outline before you begin writing a paper. A number of students skip this step – mostly because they want to get the hard process of writing a rough draft out of the way. Don’t make this mistake. Once you start writing proper essay outlines, you’ll never go back.


There are a variety of reasons why outlines are not only useful, but necessary in writing a great paper. First of all, an outline makes the writing process run smoothly. You already know what you want to say, and how you want to say it. You already know what points you want to hit. You already know where your important quotes go. Plenty of students simply build on their outline and call it a rough draft. Once you take away the numbers and letters, you’re left with a workable paper.

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Outlines also give you an idea of where to go next. Since you know what point you’re building toward, you can aim your writing in that direction. For example, if I want to use Barrack Obama to navigate toward a conversation about medical insurance, I’m going to cater my quotes and information to hit that point. I’m getting from Point A to Point B. This makes my writing clear and direct. I’m not scrambling to make a relevant point.

In addition, for those of you who hate sitting down and writing for three or four hours, creating an outline breaks your writing up into bite-sized chunks. You can sit down, elaborate on a few important points, then take a break. When you come back, you’ll still be in the exact same place you were before. You won’t need to get your mind back in the game. Your writing will already be there. You won’t have to think of somewhere to go next. You’ve already done that. Your writing will be anything but sporadic, and you won’t be able to tell when you took a break or lost your sense of motivation.

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Finally, in the long run, having an outline saves you time. Your paper will be clean, precise, and straightforward. Your professor will appreciate the amount of thought you put into the structure of your essay. And, in addition to everything we just said, you won’t feel the constant pressure to come up with useful ideas. Everything will be done already. You just have to write.

Writing is much easier when you know where you’re going with it.

Before we move on and talk about actually writing your rough draft, we’re going to give you a quick step-by-step guide to creating an outline. If you’ve chosen a topic (or, if you’re using the topic we provided), make an outline. You don’t have to write a rough draft or look for resources. Just see what you can create based on your subject. Chances are, you’ll find that writing an outline helps you formulate  and connect ideas and stay on track.

1. Organize your paper in a stepping-stone fashion with both numerals and letters from the alphabet. For example –

            A. Introduction

                        1. Hillary Clinton

                        2. Barrack Obama

                        3. John McCain

            B. Hillary Clinton

                        1. Health Care

                                   a) Proposals

                                   b) Experience

                        2. Prison Reform

                        3. Scandal

2. Once you’re organized, add a sentence or two for each subsection. What point are you trying to make in this section? What are you trying to say?

3. When you’re formatting your outline, only add a subsection if you have more than one thing to talk about. If you only need to make a singular point, don’t bother with a subsection. For example –

            A. Hillary Clinton

                        1. Prison Reform

            B. Barrack Obama

This outline doesn’t make sense. If you want to talk about prison reform and Hillary Clinton, but the whole subject in the same line. There’s no sense in creating a subtopic when it’s actually the main topic. It should become –

            A. Hillary Clinton and Prison Reform

            B. Barrack Obama

It just makes your outline neater and easier to understand.

4. Add to your outline as you come up with more ideas.

5. Add quotes from your research to your outline. If there’s something you want to quote in your paper, it should already be included in the outline. That way, you don’t have to worry about quote placement after you’ve written your essay.

Again, outlines are a huge part of the essay writing process. They help you stay organized and keep your thoughts collected. Getting into the habit of making a proper outline for your essays will ensure that you inch closer and closer to that “A” paper.

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