UofL Writing Center

Who We Are and What We Do

Throw Me a Lifeline: How Outlining Can Save Your Paper and Ultimately Your College Career

Anna-Stacia Haley, Writing Consultant

One of the hardest things to do when writing a paper for a class is actually writing the paper. Anna-Stacia HaleySometimes this difficulty stems from the fact that you may not have read the necessary book or article, but most of the time it stems from the widely known struggle of trying to organize your thoughts. What if I told you that there was a way to help you get off of the struggle bus?

There is: Outlining–you’re welcome.

But outlining is, outlining. How does that save your life? Well, it doesn’t really per se. But it can save your paper and a lot of time.

Outlining is extremely underrated, as many people automatically think of spider-maps, mind-maps and other oddly shaped or insect friendly methodologies. But au contraire mon frère, outlining is what you make it!  It can be as long or as short as you’d like. I have a great friend who’s version of outlining varies drastically from my own.

Her outline could be classified as an entire paper with pretty headings. My outlines start off with headings, then go into subheadings, and then I write a bunch of random stuff about the topic of those headings. It looks something like:

Big heading

  • Smaller heading
    • Blah
    • Blah
    • Blah

Looks easy enough right?

Throughout my educational career I’ve had to craft a plethora of different papers, ranging from a page to twenty plus pages. I found that the higher I went in page length, the more I needed an outline to stay organized. If I didn’t use the outline I’d jumble up my topics and the paper would become difficult to follow.

I also found that, when using an outline, when I ran out of words, I was able to go back and find areas that I could expand upon or that I missed during the rapid fire production of my rough draft. Now, as a graduate student, I dare not consider writing a seminar paper or any other paper for that matter, without at least some kind of draft.

Often times when our thoughts are jumbled the easiest way to make sense of them is by writing them out and taking the time to draw the connections between them–que flowchart. Outlining organizes your thoughts by giving you a map to follow. This map is essentially based off of your thesis statement. Which by the way, if you’re unsure of how to write that, the University Writing Center has a few great resources on our page!

Outlines are great for making sure that your major points stay in line with your thesis and can help highlight areas that needed to be expanded, especially when it comes to your thesis statement.

Outlining may seem like an extra step, extra work and not worth the extra time spent. However, I’d rather spend thirty minutes writing out a outline than waste three hours staring at my computer screen because I’m not sure where to go from there. Wouldn’t you?  Because let’s be realistic, the longer you stay up working on these papers, the more money you’ll be forced to spend on Starbucks. While the CEO of Starbucks might enjoy this, the average college student’s wallet does not.

Link to the thesis handout:

https://louisville.edu/writingcenter/for-students-1/handouts-and-resources/handouts-1/thesis-statements

Need more ideas about outlines? Here’s a Youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEQlqWAPD9A

 

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