Rock Valley College

Prioritize and organize your ideas 

Taking all your ideas for an assignment and transforming them into a manageable outline may seem like an overwhelming task. Outlining, however, is a critical step in the writing process. It gives you a structure to follow and helps you overcome writer’s block. To begin outlining: 

  • Jot down all your ideas for the essay and cluster them together into categories. These categories can serve as main points. If you have an idea that does not fit into a category, either modify the point so it does fit or cut it. Unrelated ideas will weaken your essay, so it is best to remove them when outlining. 
  • After reviewing your points, write a working thesis that expresses the central idea of your essay. You can always change the thesis while drafting, but it is helpful to have a working thesis to keep the outline focused. Check to make sure that all of your main points support the thesis. 
  • You can begin organizing your ideas into whatever format makes the most sense to you. Some people like the formality of Roman numerals while others simply list ideas in bullet points. Either way is fine as long as you order your ideas logically. 
  • The following example is a very basic outline that shows the parts of a research paper. You can adapt this structure to your own assignment, but reread your assignment prompt carefully to see if your instructor has specific directions. 

Introduce your topic 
Provide any necessary background information 
State thesis 

Body Paragraphs 
First Main Point 
Explain the idea 
Evidence – Refer to a source or a particular example 
Connection – Show how this evidence supports your point 
(Repeat this format for each main point in the body paragraphs) 
*Note: most standard research papers require at least three body paragraphs (main parts) 

Review main ideas 
Discuss the overall significance of your topic 

  • Remember to be flexible when creating and using an outline. If you think of another idea that you would like to include, you can always add it along the way. Similarly, if you find that one main point is not as useful, feel free to cut it. An outline should provide structure but not restrict your writing. 

If you need help while outlining, visit the Writing Center either in person or online. We can assist you at any stage of the writing process, and it is beneficial to get some guidance early on. For more information on how to get Writing Center help, see the Scheduling a Live Session handout by visiting us online at: 

Download Outlining Handout here.