5 Reasons to Outline BEFORE You Write

September 16, 2020

[This is an updated version of the original post published May 22, 2019.]

Outlining isn't just something to do before you get to the real assignment - outlining is a thinking tool that guides the assignment.

Outlines are messy, living documents that serve you while you wrestle to put your thoughts and ideas into a structure that is easy for the reader to consume. The tidy, organized structure of an outline guide is deceptive.

When you have the freedom to use an outline as a thinking tool and the permission to make changes to it throughout the writing process, you'll discover the power of an outline.

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Five Benefits of Outlining

1. Write Faster

By creating an order before writing, you'll be able to stay in the flow. You only need to write what they've already decided.No decision making required. That first draft will be ugly, but it will have all the parts that you've pre-planned.

2. Write With Focus

Without an outline, it's easy to get off-topic or include details that don't matter. An outline keeps you focused on the subject. It reminds you of all the thinking you did and is a road map to get the reader from point A to point B logically.

3. Write Confidently

An outline will make it clear where the holes are in your story or essay. Are there details that you need to add? Are some points weak and need further research? Are you missing examples? By filling in the gaps before you start writing your first draft, it will be easier to stay in the flow once you get writing.

4. Write Creatively

As you ask questions and come up with answers, your original ideas might change. An outline allows you to play with various ideas without committing to one before you're ready. Because you haven't committed your first idea to a draft, you'll be more likely to consider several ideas before writing your entire composition.

5. Write Freely - no more writer's block!

Knowing what to write eliminates writer's block. Follow your outline, and you'll have your first draft done before you know it.

As Mark Twain said, "The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks and then starting on the first one."

The outline breaks the composition into manageable tasks. Because you know the direction of your story or essay, you'll know what to write. You can start writing at any point in the outline. Writing paragraphs and scenes out of order is a freedom that comes because of the outline, and is a great way to overcome writer's block.

Psychologist Sarah Ransdell, Ph.D., a writing-cognition researcher, and professor at Nova Southeastern University notes that "A writer who is changing what they write as they go, is doing something called knowledge transformation. That is the best you can hope for in writing - allowing it to change how you think."

Allow your outline to be a living document. Sometimes, you'll only know what you think as you write it down. Your ideas will change and develop throughout a writing assignment. Over time, your writing will deepen and mature. Your attitude toward writing will start to shift, and you'll begin to appreciate the process - promise!

Ready to Try Outlining?

Watch the first 15 minutes of the free "How to Write an Essay in 12 Sentences" webinar.

Marina Gabor will walk you through the pre-writing process,

so you'll know what to do every step of the way.

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