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Learning Portal - Writing : Organizing Ideas

Organizing Ideas

When you are thinking about an essay or processing it in your head, ideas can come rapidly and randomly. When you’re planning your writing assignment, you need to put your ideas in a logical order so that your intended reader can follow your thinking. An organizer helps you as well. It serves as a map that keeps you on track and demonstrates to your reader that there is an overall order to your ideas.

Top Tips 

✓ Don’t just jump into writing. Planning beforehand is crucial!

✓ Use a planner or organizer that matches your learning preference. Some people like sequential planners; others prefer visual or graphic organizers that are both brainstorming and outlining tools.

✓ Use the "Talk Test": Discuss your ideas with someone else. Early feedback can save you major revisions later on. Just hearing yourself talk through your ideas is often a good indicator of how confident you are at this stage of the writing process.

Study Tools

Creating an Outline 

Check out this video by Writing Support Specialist Claire Pienaar (2021) about creating outlines. 

How to Use Graphic Organizers

Watch this video (The Learning Portal Ontario, 2016)  to learn more about types of graphic organizers and when they are useful. You can also download the How to Use Graphic Organizers Video Transcript .

What to Consider When Organizing Your Ideas

Constructing an Essay Outline

What is an essay outline?

An essay outline is the skeleton of an essay. It contains only the most important information and helps you plan the essay. It also acts as a guide to writing the essay.

Why should I write an outline?

Writing an outline will help you organize the ideas for your essay. Also, it provides a condensed look at the essay, which is useful in helping you stay on track when the essay is being written. In addition, you can more easily ensure that the subpoints always relate back to the thesis.

Parts of an essay outline

There are two types of essay outlines:

General outline

  • Contains only the main points
  • Is used during in-class assignments, or during time-limited situations

Specific outline

  • Includes main points and supporting material
  • Is used for take-home assignments where more planning is needed

All outlines should include an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Below is a brief summary of what is needed in the different parts:


  • Starts the essay by introducing the topic
  • Narrows down ideas from the topic to the thesis
  • Includes the thesis and the main points


  • Provides the evidence to prove the thesis
  • Contains at least two points


  • Wraps up the essay by restating the thesis and subpoints
  • Does not introduce any new evidence

Sample Essay Outline

Topic/title: The Advantages of Receiving Tutoring

I. Introduction

  1. General statement/attention getter: Attract the audience to read on; introduce the topic.

    • Everyone has required the help of another person at some point in life.

  2. Connecting information: Link the general statement to the thesis.

    • For example, students often require the help of classmates, teachers, or other individuals.

  3. Thesis: Create an arguable thesis (i.e., do not state a fact, such as “Seneca has a tutoring centre.”) Include your main points in the thesis sentence. Make sure the thesis is neither too broad, nor too narrow.

    • Tutoring provides an excellent source of help for students as it allows them to learn on a one-on-one basis, enables them to gain new strategies to tackle specific problems, and helps reinforce classroom concepts.

II. Body

  1. Subpoint #1: One-on-one basis
    Topic sentence: First, the one-on-one basis tutoring utilizes is beneficial for students seeking help on concepts learned in class.
    • Able to ask specific or “stupid” questions
    • Tutors can tailor the presentation of the concept to a student’s learning method
      • Evidence to prove this point (2 to 3 points)
      • Facts, examples, quotes, etc. can be used as support
  2. Subpoint #2: New strategies
    Topic sentence: Second, tutoring will aid students in learning new strategies to help them understand and solve specific problems they may encounter in class.
    • Work with a tutor to develop a unique way to tackle specific types of problems
    • Spend more time practicing a developed strategy on a specific type of problem in order to use it effectively even when the student is learning on their own.
      • Evidence to prove this point (2 to 3 points)
      • Facts, examples, quotes, etc. can be used as support
  3. Subpoint #3: Reinforcement of concepts
    Topic sentence: Third, a tutor can help reinforce concepts learned in class, deepening the student’s understanding of these concepts.
    • Present a concept according to the student’s pace and style of learning
    • Give the student a new insight into a learned topic.
      • Evidence to prove this point (2 to 3 points)
      • Facts, examples, quotes, etc. can be used as support


III. Conclusion

  1. Restate thesis in different words with your three points.
    Tutoring can help students further their understanding of concepts learned from class by working with tutors one-on-one, learning new strategies, and reinforcing ideas.

  2. General or memorable statement.
    Remember, learning is not a solitary journey, so do not be afraid to ask for help.

Graphic Organizers

Graphic organizers are great tools for learners who have strong visual preferences or who have strong visual memories. While we are treating them as pre-writing tools, they also make good note-taking templates for the right type of learner, since they help a reader to consolidate print-heavy information from another source— for example, a textbook— into a visual format.

The type of graphic organizer that you use will depend on what you want to do. You can use an organizer for the following reasons:


Brainstorming is the process of creative thinking to generate ideas. Mind maps or cluster diagrams are useful tools for brainstorming. They can help you branch out from an idea or subject to other, related ideas or components.

Mind mapping websites:

Comparing and Contrasting

Comparing and contrasting two or more things can help you better understand ideas. This technique involves examining how things are similar and how they differ from each other. Examples of graphic organizers for comparing/contrasting are Matrix diagrams and Venn diagrams.

The Matrix Organizer helps you to organize your research findings based on similar points of comparison and enables you to note significant differences.

The Venn diagram uses overlapping circles to categorize the similarities and differences of two or more things, such as two articles on the same subject.

Cause and Effect/Problem and Solution

Using a graphic organizer can help you analyze the causes of events or solutions to problems. The Fishbone Diagram can be used to organize writing tasks that focus on cause and effect (with the cause above and the effect below) or problems and solutions.


Unless otherwise stated, the material in this guide is from the Learning Portal created by College Libraries Ontario. Content has been adapted for the GPRC Learning Commons in June 2021. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY NC SA 4.0 International License.

All icons on these pages are from The Noun Project. See individual icons for creator attribution. 

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