Category Archives: Outline

Don’t be scared, just make an outline

by Bubba Sugarman

If you’re like me, a blank piece of paper and a writing prompt can be quite frightening. So much potential, so many things to say. But how, and in what order? It’s times like these when I remind myself to start with a simple outline. Creating an outline is an excellent way to start getting your ideas on paper. 

Start your outline by choosing a topic. (Don’t worry if it’s not perfect yet; nothing is set in stone.) You want your topic to encompass ideas you find interesting and wish to discuss. As you continue to do your research and write your paper, your topic may change a little bit, and that’s okay.

Once you have your topic, begin to think about some ideas that support it. Think about the questions you have and how you will answer them. Start to group these questions into main ideas that you can explore. These main ideas will become the body paragraphs of your paper, so write them in order on your outline. Once you find your main ideas, organize them in a way that makes sense. I like the think of my writing as a conversation, predicting the reader’s questions and answering them before they ask. In this way, I arrange my main ideas to ask and answer questions in an order that flows logically.

Now it’s time for some research. Find information about your topic and remember that as you continue to do research, you may find unexpected ideas to include in your paper. The more you know about your topic, the stronger your paper will be, so don’t be afraid to chase leads and learn all you can. From the information you gather, find evidence that supports your main ideas. The more supporting evidence you find, the more concrete your ideas will become. Remember to make a note of where you found the supporting information; it will help you find it again when you write your paper. In your outline, write supporting ideas under their respective main ideas.

Now, with your developed outline, your paper will write itself. Just start writing. Use the outline you have made as a roadmap and work your way through your paper by letting your outline guide you. Answer the questions that your main ideas inspire, and use the supporting evidence you have gathered from your research to support your ideas.  Always remember that an outline is a great way to beat that scary blank sheet of paper.


Bubba Sugarman is a business major who also happens to be a writing tutor. You can find him playing cello in the Principia Orchestra, fighting fires with the Principia Fire Brigade, or playing rugby with the Thunder Chickens. Bubba spends the little free time he has skeet shooting, flying planes, djing, woodworking, riding horses, and of course studying.

Students’ advice for students: Issue trees

by Stuart McFall

This is a special guest blog from a student in the Fall 2015 Revising and Editing (WRIT 152) class. His assignment was to write advice for other students about a specific writing or revision strategy.

I think that when it comes to revising and editing, a writer should have a strategy that works well for them to structure and develop their ideas. I think it is important to have a well-organized piece of writing so that the content is more easily understood. A great strategy that writers can use is called an issue tree. Issue trees make it easy for a writer to expand on their ideas, revise their content, and organize their work into a well-structured piece of writing. It is important for a writer to have a well-structured piece because it makes the reader’s job a lot easier. It also helps a writer expand on the main idea to write a fully developed piece of writing.

Making an issue tree is very simple. Take out a sheet of paper and a pencil. (You’ll need a pencil with an eraser to make any changes to your issue tree.) Draw a small circle at the top of your paper large enough to fit the topic of your paper in it. Write your topic, or your thesis if you have one, in that circle. Now draw more circles below your topic for each of your main points. Once you have done this, expand on each topic by drawing more circles underneath each main idea-circle. Fill this third tier of circles with specific statements, ideas, or questions you have for each main point. Continue to expand each idea and sub-idea into more circles until all your topics are expanded to your satisfaction. Finally, organize your tree into a structure that makes sense for the topic of your paper. If this means you need to take out parts or move parts around, do so.

I have used this strategy before in an assignment for Fiction Writing class. We had to write a personal story from someone else’s perspective. I built my issue tree, organized it, and then wrote my paper from that issue tree. It helped me organize the plot of the story really well so that it was easy for the reader to follow. It also helped me expand each of my main plot points for the story. I felt the issue tree really helped me write something great, and that’s why I use this strategy for a lot of my papers. I hope you try this out with your own writing and see how well it works for you.


Stuart McFall is a junior majoring in business administration and minoring in economics.

Put it in reverse

by Haley Morton

So the last word is written on your paper. How do you feel? Satisfied? Tired? Ready for some chocolate? If you’re at all like me, you probably a combination of all of those. But sometimes…you still think your paper is a complete mess. Ok, I’ll admit it—that’s me all the time. The good news is I have an answer for all of your first draft messy writing problems: reverse outlines! Get a blank sheet of paper, grab a hard copy of your paper, and let’s get started!

Here’s what you do:

  1. Read your paper all the way through with your intended thesis in mind.  Ask yourself: Does my intended thesis match the big idea I’m finding in my paper?
  2. Go back to the introduction. Have a friend read your introduction and ask him what he thinks your thesis is. If it matches yours, jot it down at the top of the blank sheet of paper.
  3. Move on to the next paragraph. Write down the big idea of this paragraph under your paraphrased thesis. Be honest with yourself, if the paragraph has two main ideas instead of one, write them both down. If you can’t figure out the main idea, you’ll need revise the paragraph to have one, or perhaps you’ll find that the ideas belong in other paragraphs and have just been misplaced.
  4. Repeat step three for the rest of your body paragraphs.
  5. When you get to the conclusion, watch out for ideas you haven’t introduced in the rest of your paper. You don’t want these. Also, do you find anything in your conclusion that might make a better thesis for your paper than the one you already have? If so, take note.
  6. Now take a step back. Look at what your reverse outline (everything you wrote on that blank piece of paper) is telling you. Does anything need to be moved around for logical reasoning’s sake? Do you need more evidence for some of your ideas? Should you refine your thesis to match the development of your ideas (rather than how you thought they would develop before you got to the conclusion)?
  7. Make the necessary changes according to your outline. Your paper will make a lot more sense to your reader now that you’ve approached your revision this way.

Reverse outlines shouldn’t be frustrating, so be sure to be patient with yourself. Revising takes a little extra time, but it’s worth it’s worth the better grade. Plus, you’ll feel even more accomplished! Happy revising!

Haley is a senior at Principia College and a political science and history double major. She has spent the last four years writing, studying, and running cross country and track. Currently, she is working on her capstone about Title IX and women in athletics. 

Line it out

by Carlie Sanderude

If I had to guess, I would say that most students think writing an outline before a paper is the biggest waste of time. Maybe that is a rather large generalization, but I think that a lot of students just jump into writing the paper itself because they want to get it done as fast as possible. But, in actuality, writing an outline will make the process much easier and less stressful! That’s why they’re my favorite, and I won’t write a paper without one.

So why is an outline useful? Isn’t it extra work? Nope.  Here’s why. Outlines

  • are the surest way to an organized paper. They allow you to clearly list the main topics that you want to cover in your paper and make sure that each topic connects back to your thesis.
  • allow you to present your material in a logical form. You can move ideas around to make sure that the logical progression of your paper works helps you prove your main idea.
  • really are helpful in just getting ideas down while you are in the pre-writing or research stages of your writing. Place information in the appropriate category within the outline and watch your paper grow while staying fully organized.

Okay, now how do you create an outline?

  1. Figure out what your thesis is and what you are trying to prove.
  2. Brainstorm all of the ideas that you might want to include in your paper.
  3. Place those ideas in a logical order. For some papers this might be chronological, while for others it might be more of a cause/effect idea or another organization scheme.
  4. Create main and sub headings from those ideas that will become your paragraph main ideas in your actual paper.
  5. Fill in the blanks with your information, research, and analysis!

The biggest benefit is that as soon as you fill in your outline, the paper is pretty much already written! Simply convert your bullet points in your outline to sentences (and don’t forget transitions, which will appear in another post one of these days).

All in all, outlines are great organizational tools, and they will always help ensure clarity and the logical ordering of your paper. An outline may make the overall writing process a tiny bit longer—but maybe not—and your organization will see major improvement in the end!

Carlie Sanderude is a senior at Principia College studying business administration and philosophy. She plays on the college’s soccer and tennis teams and has been a writing tutor for two years. This is her first ever blog post, so be gentle…