Outlining

Outlines are organized lists. After you have decided what to write about (what problem to solve), an outline can give you a clear direction, a goal toward which to write. To make an outline, you list ideas according to their relative weight: some ideas are equal to others (coordinate), and other ideas are supportive of larger ideas (subordinate). In formal outlines, broad coordinate ideas are designated with Roman numerals, and related supportive ideas are clustered beneath larger ideas, with progressive indenting from there. Here, for example, is an outline of part of this chapter:

I. Asking and Answering Questions

A. Chemistry Example #1

II. Freewriting

A. Directions for Doing

B. How It Helps

1. Starting

2. Continuing a. free association b. focusing

III. Conceptual Mapping (etc.)

For me, outlines are generative; that is, I use them in the formative stages of determining what to write and where to direct my writing. And while I do use Roman numerals and capital letters on occasion, on other occasions my outline is a series of words or phrases arranged and rearranged to show relationship and direction. Outlines are important in that they let me think through a project roughly before actually beginning it, but I never hold a writing project to the outline that helped originate it because I see outlines—like freewrites, maps, and lists—as planning, not governing, activities.

Where outlines prove especially useful is in bigger projects such as long papers, books, and grant proposals, in which it is important that readers receive a map, or a table of contents, to help them through the long written document; in essence, a table of contents is an outline of the work, allowing both writer and reader to find their way.

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