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Generate and Refine Ideas


Outlines can help you determine what ideas you already have for your paper as well as what further planning and research you still need to complete. Also, outlines can help writers make connections between ideas. Begin by writing or typing down your topic at the top of a page. Then, write or type three main level headings (A,B,C) under the main topic. Fill in the three main areas of your paper (A,B,C). Next, write or type in the next level of headings (1,2,3) under “A,” “B,” and “C.” Fill in “1,” “2,” and “3.”


There may be some time in between writing the main level (A,B,C) and the next level (1,2,3) headings. You may complete a rough outline (main level headings), and then draft a more complete outline (main level and next level headings) as you begin the writing process. You can use a detailed outline to check the logic and completeness of your ideas.

In the example below, you can see a writer interested in writing a paper about first language acquisition developing a rough outline.

First Language Acquisition

A. Morphological and Grammatical Acquisition

B. Acquisition of Vocabulary

C. Phonological Acquisition


This writer decided that she needed to complete research to fill out her outline and possibly narrow her topic.