The preparation and planning stage is an essential part of the writing process. If a student tries to write an essay without first considering their audience, purpose, controlling idea, and argument, the result is typically an essay that seems aimless, full of disconnected sentences. Mapping out ideas and organizing structure before beginning to write a first draft gives your essay direction and focus.

If a piece of writing has a body, the outline is the skeleton—a basic framework of showing the organization of the ideas and supporting points. Making an outline allows the writer to structure a piece of writing in a logical way and helps the ideas to flow naturally. Here is the basic structure of an outline. Keep in mind that the size and form of an outline will depend on the length and type of assignment.

Let’s take a look at the outline of a process essay:

  • Introduction
    • background info
    • purpose, goal, or benefit of process
  • Body (Your outline should have as many steps or stages as needed to fully describe the process.)
    • step or stage 1
      • Details:
    • step or stage 2
      • Details:
    • step or stage 3
      • Details:
  • Conclusion
    • restate aim of process
    • any extra information

This outline is for a process essay, but outlines are important for all writing.

Every time you are writing, you should create an outline, even during an exam. Many students may feel that making an outline during an exam takes valuable time away from writing; however, organizing the ideas before you start to write will help make the argument more effective and will actually help you write in less time.