The happy owl had the privilege of meeting dozens of high school students and their parents yesterday at Map Your Future, a college and career expo for home schooled students. Many talked about the difficulties of getting started and staying on topic – and of evaluating written work as well. Even professional writers struggle with issues like these. The good news is, they’re easily remedied with that time-tested tactic, the outline.
Another owl just up the road agrees. According to Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab), “an outline:
- Aids in the process of writing
- Helps you organize your ideas
- Presents your material in a logical form
- Shows the relationships among ideas in your writing
- Constructs an ordered overview of your writing
- Defines boundaries and groups”*
Instructors often require outlines as part of their major writing assignments. As I’ve said before, such requirements help students become better thinkers – and better thinkers make better college students. The habit of outlining on paper eventually results in a habitually more organized way of thinking overall. The old adage “practice makes perfect” holds true with the development of athletic skill, artistic expression, and everyday logic as well!
Scholar’s Secret strongly advocates the habit of outlining for another reason: an outline is an excellent tool by which to evaluate a finished piece of writing. The student and teacher can compare the work against the outline for gaps, duplication, or lapses in logic. Or, the evaluator can try “reverse-engineering” a piece of writing (i.e., developing an outline from the writing after the fact) to check the work for organization and structure. The more difficult this task – or the more convoluted the resulting outline – the more practice that student likely needs.
*Why and How to Create a Useful Outline, Purdue OWL, http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/544/02/, accessed October 23, 2010.