by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 12/11/15.
After 12 books and many published articles, I have come to see there is a key writing device that can help you explain your thoughts clearly and logically. This is to write an outline before you write your paper, article or book.
When I was in college I would write “off the top of my head,” which meant I would write a paper based upon whatever came into my mind while writing it. I would just put in down in the order it appeared in my thoughts. I am sure teachers thought I had good insights, but they usually couldn’t follow my logic and reasoning.
It was not until I was in graduate school that I realized the importance of outlining a paper before I wrote it. I think it began because in my courses at Fuller Seminary, I was required to outline Greek and Hebrew sentences before I was allowed to translate them. Slowly I found that this outlining helped me focus my thoughts into categories and into a logical unfolding of my argument.
Here is how one student emphasized this, ” I know for me in writing these papers and final projects, the format (and flow) can make or break it.” She was right, the structure can be the key to getting your ideas across (and getting people to distribute and read your hard work).
I can that over the years I have had mostly exceptional students. But, if there is one area of improvement that might be needed, it might be for most of my students to outline their paper first.
For example. I try to help students outline their papers by giving them general outlines in my instructions. For example, in CONG 520 I suggested three broad areas to address in their final paper. Then, I also suggested 7-steps for the tactical stages of their paper. They didn’t have to follow these structures, for they were only there to give them an idea of one way to outline their paper. They could all experiment with different ways to outline their final paper.
The key though is to use an outline. In fact, writers should create an outline first, regardless of stages you use. Using an outline can help you see the “format (and flow) [that] can make or break it [the paper].”
In fact, to this day here is how I outlined all 12 my books.
1) I first decided on what each chapter will cover and how all the chapters fit together.
2) Then I outline the basic structure of each chapter, e.g.
2.1 a story,
2.2 lessons learned,
2.3 applications of those lessons,
2.4 how to evaluate if the lessons worked,
2.5 questions for discussion,
3) Then each time I start a new chapter I outline that individual chapter keeping in mind this reoccurring structure.
People tell me by books are very easy to comprehend, and I think it is because I spend about 1/4 of my time working on the outline. All this is to say, to clearly present your ideas … use an outline. Outlining can help you have a clear presentation of your thoughts to both professor and to others.