Have you ever gotten stuck on the first sentence of your paper? Or the title? Or what main point you're going to argue? What about the unexpected writer's block halfway through?
Writing a paper, essay or report is hard. It takes time. Turning research, notes, reference materials and ideas into work you can be proud of is a huge task! But it doesn't have to be the struggle many students make it into. The solution? Start with an outline.
"But every project is different. Mine doesn't need an outline."
"An outline is more work on top of writing the paper."
No, and no.
Writing an outline will make the task of writing much, MUCH easier. You'll save time, and you'll get a better end-result. Here's why:
You need a reference point for your ideas.
You don't want to write a rant. If you're going to write without an outline, you might find yourself coming up with too many different ideas as you're writing. You might also find yourself stuck, unable to come up with enough arguments to support your main point. In either case, how much time will you lose coming up with ideas and editing them while you're writing? Imagine how much easier it would be if you had some solid points for your topic, supported by a good amount of evidence, all before you start writing.
You need flow.
You want your writing to be easy to read and understand. Your ideas and arguments should have a logical sequence to them. How convenient would it be if you had all that planned out in advance? What if you already knew the points you wanted to make for your introduction, body and conclusion paragraphs?
You can write better.
There are two parts to writing: coming up with ideas and writing well. If you don't have an outline, you're trying to do both at the same time. Not only is it very difficult, but even if you manage to do it well, you're wasting a lot of time and energy each time you revise your ideas and change your text. With an outline, you get your ideas together first, and then you focus on writing well.
You won't have writer's block.
Okay, you might a little bit, but not when it comes to ideas! With an outline, you won't be struggling to put together ideas in your head as you focus on writing well--all at the same time. You'll know what points you want to make and how you want to make them. You'll be able to focus on the your words, and how you present your ideas. And maybe. just maybe, you won't need to go on Facebook to procrastinate each time you're stuck.
You need motivation.
An outline does much more than help you plan--it helps you track your progress, too. What would have been a seemingly-endless assignment turns into a task with a concrete beginning and end. Your outline is your progress tracker! With an outline, you'll know that every paragraph you write is bringing you closer to your goal.
Once in a while, you might find a project that wouldn't benefit from an outline. The other 95% of the time, you'll write better and finish faster with a good outline.