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.

One thought on “Don’t be scared, just make an outline

  1. Wow. Great post. You know what I like about this? I love how you suggest making a rough list/outline of ideas before doing the research. That’s brilliant. I think we try to do the research sometimes before we really examine our own understanding of the topic and give ourselves a chance to discover our questions on the topic.

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