Getting Started on a Writing Project: Organizing Your Ideas & Drafting

1. Read the assignment (or reread any notes you took in class about the assignment). What is the assignment asking you to do?

One way to analyze an assignment is to look for important verbs. See Understanding Verbs in Writing Assignments.

2. Assemble any resources you need to complete the assignment (books or handouts, for example).

3. Plan your writing.

Some professors will require you to start with a thesis statement; others will require an outline; still others will simply tell you, "The paper is due on such-and-such a date." If you are good at coming up with a thesis statement, or if you are a good outliner, by all means start with that. But if you have difficulty getting started, here are some techniques you can use. When you know what you are going to say and have found a pattern of organizing that works for you, it is easy to convert your ideas to an outline form, if your professor expects an outline.

4. Write your introduction. This is where your thesis statement comes in, usually placed at the end of your introductory paragraph. The writing center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has a good handout on thesis statements, available at Use your thesis statement to check the organization of your whole paper. Does each main point you are making relate in some way to the thesis statement? How does it relate to the thesis statement?

5. Draft your paper, following your outline. Each paragraph of the body of your paper should have a topic sentence, a sentence that contains the point of your paragraph in a single sentence. Each topic sentence comes directly from a main point in your outline.

6. Draw conclusions. Do not summarize what you said, unless your professor has told you to do so. In general, your college professors want you to comment on why what you have said is important, to think about what it means or implies. 

Another Use of Outlining

If you are a good writer, or a fast writer, or if you just prefer to plunge in and start writing, you may want to use outlining for another purpose: to help you revise. After you have a draft, or if you get stuck drafting at some point, carefully read what you have written and outline it, identifying your thesis and main points and listing the evidence as the subdivisions of that point. This will help you see whether you have said enough to make each of your main points convincingly, and it will help you see whether your points are of equal importance in supporting your thesis.

Sample Writing Situations

Select one of the following writing assignments and use a brainstorming technique to come up with ideas for a paper. Then, working in pairs or small groups (of no more than 4 people), create outlines for possible papers on each of the topics. Write a thesis statement for one or more of the assignments.

In-Class Writing Topic, Fall 2002

In-Class Writing Topic, Spring 2003

Dr. Trupe's First PDP 150 Assignment, Fall 2010

Prepared by Dr. Alice Trupe for Bridgewater College Writing Center Workshop 6 Sept. 2010