How to make an effective outline

Writing can be quite a confusing process, especially when your thoughts are all jumbled up or you simply have no clue about where to start. However, these issues can be solved by creating an outline for your paper first. In fact, no matter what kind of writing assignment you may have--whether it be homework, an essay, a speech, or a research paper--making an outline for it first will definitely make the process a whole lot easier. An outline is simply a framework that lists your ideas and presents them in an organized manner. Having all your ideas laid out will make it easier for you to sort your thoughts out and eventually help you write a coherent paper. Before we dive into the vital steps on how to make an effective outline, let’s first discuss the two different types of outlines you can make:

  1. Topic outline - A type of outline with headers that are composed of only a few words or phrases. 
  2. Sentence outline - A type of outline with headers that are composed of full sentences. A sentence outline is also more detailed in nature compared to a topic outline.

how to write an outline essay paper researchUnless your instructor requires and asks for a specific type of outline for your work, you may choose to make either of these outlines, since there is only a slight difference between them. They also have the same purpose, after all, and that is to guide you through your writing process. Finally, both outlines also follow the basic format of using Roman numerals for the headers along with using capital letters, Arabic numbers, and small letters for the categories and subcategories, so just choose whichever works best for you. Now that we have identified the two types of outlines, let’s go to the main event. Here are the essentials steps on how to make an effective outline:

  • Decide on a topic or a specific focus. Settling on a final topic or a definite focus for your paper might just be the most time-consuming step in creating your outline. However, it is also the most essential step, so a clear-cut topic must be formed by constantly asking yourself various questions about the scope and limitations of your paper, your main message or goal, and so on. We also have an article that gives more in-depth tips in choosing a topic for your research paper which you can check out here.
  • List out your main points.  Once you have decided on a specific topic, identify the main points you will cover. Don’t worry if your main points are a bit general, since your subcategories will cover the left out details. The rest of the paper can also be spent expanding and cultivating your main points.
  • Create subcategories. Subcategories exist to support your main points. While your main points may be more general in nature, writing your subcategories will require you to look through smaller and more focused lens. The amount of subcategories you will list out fully depends on the information you will cover, so feel free to create numbers of subcategories as long as they are within the scope of your main points.
  • Review and make adjustments. It is always a good idea to review your work, as reading through your first draft will give you a glimpse of your paper’s overall flow. Reviewing your work will also help you evaluate if the ideas you’ve outlined have well-established connections. Do not hesitate to switch or move the categories around and make adjustments as it’s all part of the process of making an effective outline.

These steps are all essential in figuring out how to make an effective outline, so just follow them to a T and you’re all set to write one coherent piece after another!