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Why Outlines Are Good

Outlines. Writers either love them or hate them. They do them first or last. I, personally, don’t like them and do them last. Some people write the outline on notebook paper by hand, some do it on the computer with MS Word or another program that includes outlining options – or they do both. I often write things down on paper first, and then enter them in the computer. It’s an extra step that many people find strange and necessary, but it helps the information stick in my brain better. Plus, I can go through a handwritten copy and cross things out without losing them. With a tool such as Track Changes, once you’ve accepted the change, the old text is gone forever – unless you haven’t saved the changes yet (if that’s the case you can hit the “undo” button).

Some good reasons to do an outline include:

–          It forces you to think ahead. It helps you plan the beginning, the stops along the way, and the end. Content of any length needs a beginning and an ending, as well as major discussion points. An outline helps you see them and decide the best way to get to each point.

–          It’s a map. A good road map helps you see the whole route, as well as stops along the way. Without a map, you can’t get very far or you may get lost along the way.

–          You can change it. An outline is meant to help you see the bigger picture as well as its smaller parts. An outline does not have to be logical from the start – it is a way to get “everything down on paper” before tackling the bigger job of organized prose.

–          It can include as much or as little detail as you want or need. Outlines can include full sentences or paragraphs, or one or two key words – whatever is needed to trigger your memory or thought process.

–          It helps focus large projects. If you’re the one faced with writing your company’s year-end report, the company employee handbook, or the information package presented to prospective clients, an outline can arrange things into manageable chunks to help make the task less daunting.

–          It gives others a quick picture. Your boss may want to evaluate the progress of a project. An outline is something he or she can quickly scan to get an idea of the status of the project.

–          They are logical. Even if the order of ideas is changed in the final draft, an outline is a broken down, step-by-step analysis of the bigger project. It helps move you from beginning to end in a way that a “write it all down” method could miss important points or data.

–          It can spark new ideas. An outline helps you gather all the pertinent data, while giving you the ability present that data how you see fit. The outline could shed light on a possible new approach to a current or past problem.

–          It’s both a visual and a textual tool. Years of research has shown that not everyone works and learns in the same way. An outline is not just text on the page for those who prefer text. It’s also a visual tool that helps you see the way things stack up. It may not be an actual photograph, but you don’t have to read and read and read before finding what you need – it’s a snapshot of the work to be done.

–          It’s a reminder. Some people get so bogged down in the details that they forget where they’re going or how to get there. An outline can be used as a reminder of the major points you need to cover by the end of the document.

Why do you or don’t you use an outline?

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