Timed essays can leave students feeling too rushed to create an outline, but beginning an essay without an outline is like starting any project without a plan—it can be done, but things can easily swing out of control. Outlines force you to begin the writing process immediately, organize your thoughts, and structure your examples and analyses. It’s worth the few minutes it takes to jot down your ideas.
The blank pages following the essay prompt can be paralyzing, but creating an outline jump-starts your writing process. By the time you’ve noted the points you want to make, you’ve gained momentum and are ready to begin your essay. As Mary Poppins would say, “Well begun is half done.”
Essay prompts usually provide a a wide range of ideas, but an outline can help you organize the information you need and brainstorm examples and relevant details. Outlining your thoughts guarantees that you won’t forget your counter arguments or brilliant insights by the time you’ve written several paragraphs.
An outline also keeps your essay focused and structured. Without an outline, it is easy to spend too much time on tangential information. An outline serves as a template for your essay, so as you are writing, you are not overly burdened by figuring out what points to make next or what the following paragraph should include—all that information has been noted on your outline. You can then focus entirely on clearly and persuasively making your arguments.
I am a fan of making a plan, and preparing for an essay is no exception. Designing an outline helps to begin your writing process while also ensuring that you remain focused on your ideas and arguments.