Whether you’re creating a monthly report, a term paper, a website or a short story, a writing outline is usually a good starting point. A proper outline helps you organize your thoughts and ideas and presents them in logical form.

This simplifies the writing process, because everything is laid out in front of you. In a way, you can “empty your mind” onto the screen or paper, and the likelihood of leaving out any pertinent information or plot twists is minimal.

Below are three different ways you can create an effective writing outline. Choose the one that appeals most to your personality and get to work!

Before You Begin

Before you get started, it’s best to do the following:

  • Determine the reason for the piece
  • Determine the audience for the piece

Naturally, the answers to these two questions may vary wildly, depending on what type of writing you are doing. The “who” and “why” may also help you decide which of the following outline styles is best.

Mind Maps / Infographics

A mind map refers to an informal or pictorial outline. With modern technology, you could also create an infographic to have a similar effect.

Basically, a mind map starts with a statement or “thesis” in the centre. This thesis statement acts as your base and everything flows from there. The idea is to draw branches from that central area that represent different concepts or thoughts you associate with the main thought.

Mind maps work well for brainstorming and they are great for visual learners, but they don’t list the information in any specific order, which is problematic for some people.  Sometimes, a mind map acts as a good first step, but then a more formal outline is needed.

Old-Fashioned Notebooks

Free writing in an old-fashioned notebook is an effective way for some people to free up ideas that may be stuck. The idea is to just sit down with a pen and your notebook and write about the subject at hand. No rules, no structure, just writing.

From past experience, it helps to pay a little attention to the quality of your handwriting so you can read it later, but other than that, there are no rules. Free writing in a notebook is a valuable tool against writer’s block and it often brings out new ideas that were being held down within the rules of formal writing.

Typing a Formal Outline

When you hand in a proper term paper, your outline will likely be part of your overall mark, but in other forms of writing it acts like a guide. But, even though it’s not being marked, you can still create a formal outline to help you with your writing piece.

Typing out a formal outline can answer the objections that crop up with other types of outlines, but you do need that thesis or base statement worded clearly. You’ll know what you want to prove, the right order to bring up arguments and ideas, and when you’ve made your point.

In the end, you might lean toward one of these outlines over another, you may combine certain qualities or go for something completely different. Just take the time to do an outline, regardless of the type of writing, because the end result will always be better.