How To Make a Really Good Outline (for Jay)

Dear Jay-who-commented-on-my-blog-post-about-outlines-today,

I am guessing, based on your slightly frantic tone when you asked how to make a really good outline, that you have a homework assignment due soon that involves an outline. But you didn’t mention what the outline is for.  Is it for a short story? A persuasive essay? A book review?  What kind of outline you need kind of depends on what you’re writing.  For some projects like traditional research papers, a traditional outline might work best. Something like this:

I. Really Big Idea
     A. One idea about that big idea
           1. Detail or example to support idea A.
           2. Another one…   and so on.

Or it might be that some kind of a web would be better.  When I was working on one of my mysteries, I put the Star Spangled Banner in the  middle of an idea web and then created bubbles branching out from it, showing who was interested in the flag, who the suspects were, who the investigators were, what the clues were, etc. It gave me a visual picture of relationships to the flag that a traditional outline might have missed.

For other projects, I might not use an outline at all. 

But you probably have to use one, right?  Otherwise, you would have been writing instead of googling outlines.  Since I don’t know what you’re trying to write, I’m going to toss a bunch of planning tools at you in the hopes that you find the right one in the pile.  Fair enough?

These are all from the Read-Write-Think website from NCTE and IRA. It’s full of resources and is a great place to go when you need help with this kind of thing.

BioCube Organizer – For when you’re summarizing or writing a biography
Circle Plot Diagram – For when you’re writing or talking about a story with a circular structure
Compare & Contrast Map – Great for those compare-contrast essays
Essay Map – This one can be used for almost any essay.
Story Map – To get you thinking about & planning elements of a narrative – also good when you have to analyze a story.
Interactive Venn Diagram – Another tool for compare-contrast kinds of essays.
Persuasion Map – Great for persuasive essays.  Or when you want to convince your parents to let you have a friend over.
Note Taker – Helps you take notes for a research project & then organize them.

Good luck!