The Importance of Outlining and Prewriting

Importance of Outlining and Prewriting

All experienced writers know that a blank canvas can be intimidating. How do you get from that blank screen to a finished paper? The answer is outlining and prewriting! Whether you are writing an essay, a research paper, a budget proposal, or starting a novel, outlining and prewriting are essential steps before you dive head-first into a writing project. These processes will help you organize your thoughts and write more efficiently.


There are a variety of different styles of prewriting, but all of them are designed to boost your creativity and get all of your ideas written down so you can organize them, build on them, and structure your final paper. The key to prewriting is finding the method that suits you best, so try them all!


This method, also known as listing, involves simply making a list of all of your ideas or everything that’s on your mind concerning the project. A helpful trick is to set a time limit for brainstorming, such as ten minutes. During this time, don’t focus on anything else, and don’t worry about the importance or value of each idea, just write down as many as you can as they come to you.

If you feel stuck, ask yourself questions: What do I find the most interesting about this topic? What do I know that my audience may not know? Do I need to learn more about it? What do I like/dislike about this project? How can this benefit my audience? By the end of the brainstorming session, you should have a pile of information that you can now sort out and analyze, and hopefully, you discover new directions or perspectives to incorporate into the project.

Mind mapping:

This method is helpful for understanding how information fits together in a project. To begin mind mapping, write your topic in the center of your paper or workspace, and then write main ideas or thoughts around the main topic and connect them accordingly. There is much online software that makes mind mapping easier. Braincat is a unique application that combines brainstorming and mind mapping to guide you through an efficient thought process, equipped with guiding questions and outputs you can easily export.


This method is similar to brainstorming but is written in complete sentences rather than just a list. Freewriting is also great to practice with a time limit, typically only a few minutes. Start writing by summarizing your topic or describing how this project started, and keep writing anything that comes to mind. Although you should write in complete sentences, don’t worry about grammar at this time. Write casually and comfortably, and just tell a story about what’s on your mind concerning this project. Why are you writing it? What do you hope to accomplish? Who is your audience? What are you excited about?


This is intended to be a long term prewriting process and is more suitable for large projects such as novels or thesis papers. Journaling simply means keeping a journal or record solely dedicated to your project, so you can record ideas and thoughts as they come to you or during research.

Asking questions:

This method is the most helpful for coming up with new ideas or conclusions. Instead of listing ideas, list questions to ask yourself about the project. Start with questions you have been wondering about the subject. This also can help you come up with a topic or argument if you’re not sure where to start.


The purpose of outlining is to build a basic structure for your paper to ensure that you have a complete, organized argument before you begin writing. If you have already done some prewriting before you make an outline, it should be a piece of cake.

  1. Make a claim: No matter what the writing assignment is, you should be aiming to make a claim or argument or have a central purpose.
  2. List supporting arguments: Briefly list your supporting or main points that you plan to discuss in the paper.
  3. List evidence for supporting arguments: Underneath each main point, make note of the evidence or explanation behind the argument.
  4. Analysis of evidence: Describe how each piece of evidence supports your argument and why it is important.

Once you have recorded all of your ideas and created a basic structure, writing the first draft should come smoothly and easily. Over time, as you become accustomed to this way of writing, you will be able to write faster and more effectively.

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About the Author: Mike