Organizing Your Writing: A “One-Size-Fits-Most” Approach to Outlining

The following text was first “published” as a handout I wrote for the learning center where I work. Many students have found it helpful, so I’m sharing it here in the hope that it can be useful to even more students and writers.

This post is also available as a PDF: Organizing Your Writing

In order to be effective, all writing must be well-organized, and this is especially true of academic writing. Many students struggle to organize their thoughts in a way that meets their college professors’ expectations. The outline provided in this handout is one that has proven useful for many students.


I. Introduction

Make your main point and describe how you plan to back it up. A good rule of thumb is to use three supporting points, although this will vary depending on the length of the essay and what type it is.

Your main point needs to be clear and specific, and is often called a thesis statement. Your thesis statement is a prediction; it tells your readers what to expect from your essay.

Some students find it best to start with a good thesis sentence before writing an outline, essay, or report, others find that pre-writing helps them to clarify the points they want to make and prefer to write the thesis sentence afterward.

II. Body

In the body of your paper, make supporting points and back them up with evidence and facts. If you have already written your thesis sentence, the supporting points listed there will provide a rough outline of the points you will make in your draft. If you have done some pre-writing, skim through the draft and look for the points you made; decide which of these is your main point, and which are supporting points, then use these to develop your outline.

Once you’ve determined what points you want to make in your writing, you will need to back up each point with evidence and facts appropriate to the essay topic.

     A.      Make a supporting point and back it up with evidence and facts.
     B.      Make a supporting point and back it up with evidence and facts.

     N.      Make a supporting point and back it up with evidence and facts.

III. Conclusion

The main purpose of your conclusion is to wrap up your essay, so that it feels finished. To do this, remind your readers of your main point and how you backed it up. Don’t use the exact words you used in your introduction, your prediction; instead, focus on the fact that you have already made your point and it is history.


Note: It’s important to remember that, as long as the finished work is organized, you don’t have to write your writing assignments in any specific order. You can start anywhere that works for you, so long as you are able to arrange your work into an effective piece of writing by the time you’re done.

With thanks to Meg Files, Chair, English and Journalism Department at Pima Community College West Campus for her demonstration of the outlining technique which has been adapted for use in this handout.

For more information about writing a thesis sentence, see:

For more information about organizing essays, see:

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