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Preparing for Academic Writing

How to Outline your Essay

Before you begin writing your assignment it is useful to create an outline plan of your essay. Having a plan creates more certainty when you are writing and allows you to consider the structure and order of your points.

Your outline plan will only be seen by you and so can be created however works best for you. However irrespective of how you choose to create your plan, an outline plan should do the following things:

Outline your key points and arguments

Try to write out each point that you want to make in it’s simplest format. Generally, this should be in 1-2 lines.

Rearrange your points into a logical order

Consider how your points can connect to each other in a way that is logical and creates flow. If a point is similar to another then it may make sense to put their respective paragraphs next to each other. There are many ways of ordering points and structuring arguments. See our structure and flow guide for further information.

Attach evidence to the points

Underneath each point attach any research or evidence that supports or challenges that point. Note down how it links to the point. If you notice any points with no or limited evidence, consider doing further research if time permits. When attaching evidence ensure that you include the full referencing information so that you can reference the evidence when writing your essay.

Note any ideas for critical thinking

In the context of academic writing, critical thinking requires asking questions of either your argument or your evidence. You will often check the reliability of evidence and if an argument can stand up to logical scrutiny. Ensure that any critical thinking that you have noted is distinguishable from your evidence, for example by putting it in a different colour or by using the comments function in Microsoft Word.

Once you have created your outline plan check it against your assignment information. Consider if when written up, the outline will address each aspect of the question and will be capable of achieving the marking criteria needed for the grade that you desire. If you are confident that your outline has satisfied the essay requirements, you can begin writing your assignment. If not, consider if you have the time to address any weaknesses before you must start writing.   


When and How to Start Writing


In this video from the Academic Writing workshop, Alex from the Skills Team, discusses how to overcome the difficulties of starting to write an assignment.