5 Tips for Creating an Outline: Make Writing Easier, Even When You’re Short on Time

Posted October 08, 2014 by
Rear view of a young man working of a computer

Rear view of a young man working of a computer. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Maybe you were assigned a paper at the last minute. Maybe you procrastinated. Maybe some emergency happened during the time that you had planned to spend working on your paper. However you got to this point, the reality is that you need to write a good paper in a short amount of time. How do you avoid panic and get done what you need to get done? Use these five tips to guide you to completing your paper.

1. Focus on what you do have.

Whether it was a book that you really wanted to read or an article from a newspaper or journal or even an interview with an individual, there were probably some resources that you had wanted to use for the paper that you simply do not have. Let them go. Instead, make the most of what you do have. Can you pull an extra point or two from each resource? Yes, it’s “better” to have a broad variety of resources. However, don’t underestimate how time-consuming research is. You might find that you’ve spent half the time that you needed to spend writing the paper looking for a single resource — which you may or may not actually be able to use. Go with what you’ve got and make the most of it.

2. Use a classic structure.

Resist the feeling that, because you’re in a time crunch, you’re going to have to do something really special and creative in order to make the paper work. In reality, your best bet is to take a “back to basics” approach. The tone of the writing and the feel of the overall paper will seem calmer, and you’ll be better able to hide the fact that you wrote the paper quickly. For the paper, you will need at least a genuine introduction and conclusion as well as three body paragraphs.

3. Organize your information first, and then create your paragraphs.

Now that you have a basic skeleton of an outline, it is time to start filling it in. While it can seem logical to decide on the topic of each paragraph first and then go through your resources to find supporting evidence, this is actually backwards. You’ll probably find yourself in a bit of a panic because you’re not necessarily going to have the resources that you need. Although it can seem counterintuitive to let the resources themselves guide the topic of each paragraph, you will ultimately create a more cogent paper this way.

4. Even out the paragraphs.

As you fill in your outline, do you have some paragraphs with a large number of items and others with only one or two? If so, then it’s time to even things out. Maybe a paragraph with only one or two items can be merged with a larger paragraph. Perhaps a paragraph with seven items can be divided in two. Creating paragraphs that are basically the same length improves the paper’s visual presentation and gives balance to the arguments of the paper.

5. Don’t neglect the conclusion.

While this is really more of a writing tip than one for creating an outline, it is important to emphasize for those who are in a time crunch. After the hard work of creating a great introduction and body paragraphs, conclusions often get neglected in papers. However, this can actually be the most important paragraph because it is the final impression that you will leave on the reader. Budget enough time to write a solid concluding paragraph to draw your paper to a strong close.

By Ryan Hickey, Managing Editor of Petersons & EssayEdge

About the Author

Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor of Peterson’s & EssayEdge and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants.

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