- Sticky notes and outlines
When the blinking cursor and blank page mock you, when your paragraphs are a mess, when your thesis seems to have gone on vacation, when your paper is woefully long or frightfully short, what do you do? OUTLINE!
“Nah,” you say. “I hate outlines, because the rules don’t work for me/I don’t like lists/outlines are boring/I don’t need to outline/outlines don’t help me . . .”
Maybe you were taught a specific way to do outlines, and you don’t feel that they help you at all. We’ll let you in on a not-so-secret-secret: outlines have no rules! Just like the free-for-all step of brainstorming, you can outline however you want. Since neither brainstorming nor outlines are presented with the finished product, the way you do them is only restricted by personal taste and use. Outlines are extremely useful and can help you organize all of your thoughts before you spend hours struggling with full sentences and paragraphs. With outlines, you can quickly see how your core ideas flow into one another and how you can make the best argument. Outlines are the ultimate organizational tool for writing anything from creative pieces to research papers and argumentative essays.
So how do you outline? A good way to start is to think about how you learn best. Do you like to do everything digitally? Do you like to write long sentences, or jot down ideas shorthand? Do you prefer to know all the details beforehand, or make it up as you go along? Are you a visual learner, or auditory processor? Outline however works best for you! Use unconventional materials like sticky notes, index cards, or draw pictures and diagrams. Make lists on napkins, or write out detailed ideas on your computer. Whatever floats your boat and sails your goat, do it! Continue reading
“First, write an outline.”
Some people love outlines. They find it helps organize their thoughts and guides their research and writing in a way that saves time and effort. It prevents them from going down tangents that are unnecessary for the assignment. The outline also breaks a large project down into small and achievable tasks. This method becomes the virtual trail down the mountain, preventing them from getting lost in the wilderness of ideas.
However, for other people outlines are the bane of writing. They dutifully try to write rows of ideas prefaced by little Roman letters and numbers with periods after them. The dry process often only results in a paper that almost feels formulaic and forced. They prefer to write organically and just see where the writing goes.
For those doing creative writing, the thought of using an outline seems almost unheard of– that is something reserved for essays and research projects. Outlining almost seems like putting a beautiful wild horse into a corral; making sad limitations on something that should run free.
Yet, outlines can be powerful tools in ALL types of writing. It helps us step back and evaluate the content and pace of our message. We can use them to judge our structure and check for gaps in our logic or narration.
Author and instructor, Aaron Hamburger writes in the New York Times about his method of reverse outlining when he is writing creatively. He lets the story grow organically for the first draft and THEN writes an outline based on what he has already written. This allows him to evaluate the pace and completeness of the story.
If you want to improve your writing and take it up to the next level, try outlining. At any step of the writing process an outline can help bring clarity and objectivity to what your writing conveys to others.