Prewriting is an important step in the writing process. Fully exploring your ideas and planning out how they will take shape in your paper will ensure you are able to achieve your purpose. Depending on your learning style, some prewriting strategies may work better for you than others.

One common prewriting method is outlining, which complements reading/writing and visual learning styles.

How do you outline?

Outlines typically follow a particular structure, but writers have some flexibility with how they label their outline. Writers can use numbers or letters or even bullets to label points. Remember that this is a prewriting strategy and is typically used to help writers get started. Make it your own, and construct it to make sense for you.

Following are some sample structures you can adopt if you feel outlining is something for you!

Using Numbers

(1) Main Section

1. Topic

2. Topic

i. Example

ii. Explanation

3. Topic

i. Example

ii. Explanation

(2) Main Section

1. Topic

i. Example

ii. Explanation

Using Bullets

  • Main Section
    • Topic
    • Topic
      • Example
      • Explanation
    • Topic
  • Main Section
    • Topic
    • Topic
      • Example
      • Explanation

Keep in mind:

  • It is the most formal, structured prewriting method.
  • Does not usually use full sentences, but can if that helps you stay organized.
  • Needs to be very specific – you will have to develop vague points ahead of time.
  • Usually completed after exploring other prewriting strategies, such as freewriting, listing, or thought mapping/webbing.
  • Actual outline formats exist, but you can adapt to what works best for your learning style and organization preferences. (for example, using various bullet points instead of more structured numbers or letters)
  • Incorporating research can help you ensure you have a good balance of evidence vs your own ideas, and can help you keep track of citation information so you don’t get into trouble later on.
  • Some instructors require a certain labeling method (numbers vs. letters) or require outlines to be in complete sentences. If you are writing an outline for a course, make sure you are adhering to instructor guidelines.

Why should you outline?

  • Helps you get your thoughts organized.
  • Also helps you preview the structure of your paper.
  • Allows you to see potential repetition and other structural issues that could be fixed before you start writing.
  • Easy to look at and critique if you see a Hub tutor or your instructor to verify you’re on the right track.
  • The more complete an outline is, the more the paper will write itself; investing time and energy pays off in the end.

Did you know?!

  • While we have talked about outlining as part of the prewriting process, it can be used in other ways. Prewriting strategies often build on one another and aren’t mutually exclusive. One can be used after another to hone your ideas. A writer can start with a strategy like freewriting, listing, or thought mapping/webbing and then take the information gathered and outline. This strategy might be a second or third step instead of the first step.
  • Outlining is often useful at the beginning stages of writing, but it can also be helpful to create a reverse outline to see how your final product turned out. It can also be used later in the process to fix a structural problem in your writing.

Outline Example

“Intertextuality in The Hunger Games: How Oppression Functions in the Hunger Games Universe

I. Introduction

A. Background information on books and movies

B. Summary of premise

C. Thesis: These two works both have something valuable to offer the other: the film and book offer a doubled view on the nature of oppression that can only be understood when the two works are combined.

II. Background of Adaptation Theories

A. How adaptations are viewed today

B. Brian McFarlane’s introduction to adaptation (direct quotes)

C. Linda Costanzo Cahir shows adaptations and original works can influence one another in terms of discovering meaning and value in each other.

1) Cahir explains that “examining the works together not only aids our appreciation of each separate work… but also yields a third consideration: the insights and concepts that emerge through consideration of the relationship between the two works” (99).

2) The books and movies viewed together provide a more nuanced perspective.

III. Movies and books present oppression from two different lenses

A. Books focus on Katniss’s personal experience and her theories about the oppressors (which may or may not be true)

B. Through conversations with Crane and Snow, we can see how oppressors view hope and oppression.

IV. Oppression in the movies: it’s all about hope

A. Oppression goals and motivations described in film show that carefully providing some small amount of hope allows for Snow to remain in power.

B. From the oppressor’s understanding, it’s not just about intimidation; instead, it is about careful manipulation. (direct quotes)

C. Without this perspective, we do not see how oppression actually happens and how it is carefully calculated and planned.

V. Oppression in the books

A. Katniss’s views on oppression drastically different from Snow’s—she does not see hope—only fear.

B. She is unable to see hope—merely sees domination, her bitterness, and powerlessness, which is only described at length in the books. (direct quotes)

C. Without this perspective, we miss the more personal stories of the oppressed since we cannot hear Katniss’s voice and experience. Both in this case are incredibly valuable.

VI. Conclusion:

A. Each prospective is valuable and works together to understand the politics of Panem.

B. Rather than viewing one text as privileged over the other, with this adaptation, the film and the novel are able to impose meaning on each other, which gives us a deeper understanding of The Hunger Games, and the often symbiotic relationship between text and film.

Cahir, Linda Costanzo. Literature into Film: Theory and Practical Approaches. McFarland & Company, 2006.

Notes to Consider

  • Each Roman numeral represents a new paragraph, with the letters being main points for that paragraph, and the numbers being subpoints to support the main points.
  • This student included an actual quote they will end up using in their paper. That’s a great way to see what research you have, and then identify what you still need. At the very least, writing “need evidence” or “research here” as subpoints will help you remember to add them later.
  • Use an outline style that works for you. This student is using Roman Numerals, letters, and numbers to designate sections of their outline. You really can do whatever you want, as long as it makes sense to you!
  • This student used some full sentences but not all the time. Make sure you follow instructions if writing an outline you’re going to turn in, but if the outline is just for you, then do what works best for you.