12 Outlining

Once you have your concepts and know how you are going to connect your concepts, you can start to shape your essay by working on an outline. An outline can help structure your writing – but it is flexible! Imagine that your outline is your travel plan for what you want to do on your vacation – you know which sights you want to see, which pictures you want to take, and where you want to go. Once you know this, you can then decide how you’re going to do these things: what do you want to visit first? How will you travel between destinations? How long will you stay in each place?


Overhead image of a person reviewing a map while writing in a open notebook. A pair of glasses, a journal, and pecils lie beside the map
My work space” by oxana v on Unsplash


For your writing journey, an outline can help you answer similar questions: which concept do you want to discuss first? How will you travel between different concepts? How much will you write about each concept?

Your outline helps you plan and structure what you want to say and in what order you will say it. As your ideas develop, you may adjust your outline so that it better fits with the concepts you want to connect and the evidence you will use to support your ideas.

You can follow this KPU learning aid to learn more about structuring your outline.

Using our example writing assignment, I can get started on my outline.

Bus at transit stop with question: "Are transit services effective for Kwantlen University students?"


I’ll  group ideas and concepts into paragraphs:


Outline: Introduction: Describe what it's like to take the bus; Thesis Statement; Paragraph 1: Time, Students have many other things on their schedule, Buses late, don't come; Paragraph 2: Distance - travel between campuses, Not reliable, limits course options, carpooling quicker, easier


Outline, continued: Paragraph 3: Translink and Surrey not prepared for KPU students, Students not a priority; Paragraph 4: Counterpoints, U-Pass is good, but it's not just about money, While some can study/sleep on the bus - not the best place for either; Conclusion: Keypoints, What would effective transit look like?


Right now, I haven’t written my thesis statement, but that will be my next step.


If you are an intermediate or an experienced academic writer, you might want to try creative graphic approaches to outlining.


Pencil crayons lay on a piece of paper. Each pencil crayon has been used to draw on stripe of a rainbow.Blue and green pencil crayons are arranged on top of blue and green pencil shavings.


Below you can see an example of using text and drawing to organize key ideas and assess options when putting together a project.


Example of a hand-drawn mind map: Why and How at the top of page, Then identify gaps, see progress, connect ideas, share knowledge, review and remember. Start with bottom-up notes, make a list, organize by topic and order link, identify gaps and fill them. There's also the top down approach: map what you want to learn and then fill it in with more details. Organizing: Goals - easy review, engaging; sharing, navigation links?, planning, see active gaps, focus. Outline. Map book index system (short URL). Evernote or other computer-based thing? Blog or wiki.

2013-10-14 Mapping what you know” by Sacha Chua CC BY 2.0


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