Now I know, ‘Tis Better to Outline’

I’ve been a College Writing Tutor now for awhile. I help college students write papers… all sorts of papers.


One thing that has become very clear: if I can help the student create some kind of tentative  (and very simple) outline, before they’ve even begun to write, then they will save precious time and have an organized planned paper.  The alternative is that they might create a lot of irrelevant pages and paragraphs that they have to cut out and throw out later and be very confused about what direction they can take their writing.

When a student comes in who hasn’t either begun or gotten very far on their paper, I encourage them to plot their paper before they begin or continue actually writing.

When possible, we’ll discuss the opening hook, or topic sentence… a tentative thesis or two, and plot out what will be in the subsequent paragraphs and conclusion…all BEFORE they’ve begun the actual writing.

I’ve seen how much easier it is for the student to follow through once they have a plan to write with a map of sorts.

I don’t know how many of the writers on these WordPress blogs (who are writing novels) just write without stopping, waiting to know where the characters will take them, or who have a general plan (and even know the ENDING of their story – before they begin writing).

Many of us know that Stephen King NEVER uses an outline.  On the other hand, J. K. Rowlings does outline her novels.

As for myself, now that I’ve worked with so many writers on so many different types of papers, I will always recommend an outline: whether it be for a 5 paragraph school essay, or a 300 page novel. As far as shorter pieces like blog posts, then I channel my inner Stephen King and just write!

4 thoughts on “Now I know, ‘Tis Better to Outline’

  1. In school, I would map out my essays one paragraph at a time and just jot down notes or quotes for each paragraph. When I blog, I have no clue where the post is going to go, 80% of the time. I just have a topic and write until I run out of stuff and then I hope it makes sense lol


  2. Some analogies. It is like using, or not using, a map or a recipe. If I know where I am going, don’t need the map. If I know what I am cooking, no need to follow the recipe. Many of us have set down and written a story or poem or article – start to finish-at least first draft-with no outline. Against outlines: they can be like a wall or a fence or a gully for rainwater-you don’t think outside the gully. For outlines: they give some impetus to go on, but they don’t stop you from thinking outside the box/outline. And sometimes, especially for a story, if I do an outline, I only get so far and stare at the page-because the outline does not tell me where to go next and then I have to sit and imagine/wonder/create. Guy McClung, San Antonio, Texas


  3. Guy, ‘Virtuouscitizenship” Now that you mention it, for short stories, I don’t need an outline, and neither for blog posts, I already know where I’m going before I start. I suppose I should clarify, I believe outlines are best used when you’re unsure of what you’ll be writing, if the material is difficult, and (at least in my own case) if the material is too vast to be contained in the mind… Short stories I have no problem.
    Now if I had a 5 paragraph essay, I would certainly, however simply, plot out what I’d want to say…to be on the safe, and well planned, track.


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