Write Visually With Outlines

An Example of an Outline in Inspiration

Educators understand the importance of the entire writing process. They know that proper pre-writing, planning and outlining improve students’ overall writing proficiency. This is why students are often required to show that they’ve moved through these steps by turning in an outline with their completed essay. Yet, how often do your students – underestimating the importance of outlining – skip this step and create an outline after the written essay? In conversations with educators, I’ve found this happens quite frequently. Why? Well, simply because students don’t understand the benefits of outlining when preparing to write. So, how does outlining improve students’ writing?

Diving Into An Essay Backfires

Students who don’t understand the purpose of outlining often dive into their paper thinking it will save time. Yet for many, this backfires. Students get mid-way through their essays and ask:

  • What else do I have to say?
  • What was my main point?
  • Where do I go from here?
  • Why doesn’t my essay make sense?

Outlining answers these questions before students invest time in writing a complete essay. Dennis G. Jerz, an associate professor of English at Steton Hill University in Greensburg, PA, makes a great comparison of two students who begin writing with and without outlines in his blog post titled, “Outlines: How They Can Improve Your Writing.” He says that outlines can help students write “better work, in less time.”1 He argues that there’s little to lose by creating an outline. You can jump around with ideas, make multiple attempts, backtrack and explore the essay without investing too much time in a finished product. I agree with this appraisal.

Technology Today Makes Outlining More Efficient

With today’s technology, including tools like Inspiration®, Kidspiration® and Webspiration Classroom™ service, outlining is much more efficient. Students don’t need to continually rewrite their outlines.  They build their outline, organize it by dragging topics around, insert new subjects, and are able to change the level of importance, all with simple commands. Best of all, they can start writing their essay right in their outline, expanding upon each point.  It’s easy for students to create their outline and start to write as they think about their ideas and clarify their thinking. With this flexibility, students can truly work toward a targeted, organized and well-written essay. Students can then skip the “steps” of writing pages of text that then have to be thrown out, rewritten, and pieced together to make sense.

We all know that our brains absorb, organize, relate and remember information far better when presented visually. Outlining is visual writing. It provides visual form and structure for writing. And for those who still have a hard time starting with an outline, with Inspiration Software’s tools they can create a visual map of their essay and then with one click, transform it into an outline and start organizing from there. The efficiency and easy-use of these tools helps students move through the appropriate steps of the writing process, rather than saving the outline for last.

Outlining Improves Writing Proficiency Levels

As I mentioned in my previous post titled “How Visual Learning Supports Writing,” the pre-writing and planning stages of writing truly improve students’ writing proficiency levels. After fully planning their essay, students should be able to answer the questions I mentioned before. From here, the expansion of ideas into a full essay takes little time, because students know exactly what needs to be said and what points they want to make.

In brief, outlining is an easy and effective way to streamline thinking to help students:

  • determine the focus and direction of the essay
  • stay on topic, relating all the ideas back to their thesis
  • ensure that they didn’t leave anything out
  • visually develop ideas and arguments
  • and save time.

So remember, outlining is a key way to improve writing proficiency levels and improve all writing, and best of all it can save time!

See you next week!

Mona Westhaver, Inspiration Software, President

Mona Westhaver
President and Co-founder, Inspiration Software

Mona Westhaver, President and Co-founder of Inspiration® Software, Inc., has more than 30 years’ experience in visual thinking, systems thinking, and educational learning tools and technology. She has a passion for helping people learn to clarify thinking and feelings and to communicate knowledge and views in a positive way.
Mona Westhaver
View all posts by Mona Westhaver
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  1. “Outlines: How They Can Improve Your Writing (Dennis G. Jerz, Seton Hill University).” Jerz’s Literacy Weblog. Web. 09 Mar. 2011. <http://jerz.setonhill.edu/writing/academic/outline.htm>. []

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