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Outlining Enhances Writing Creativity

by Ron Kurtus (updated 25 June 2023)

Whether you are a student or a writer of fiction, advertising copy or technical documentation, you can enhance your creativity and facilitate the organization of your work by outlining what you write.

You can do this with a pencil and paper, by using the outlining feature in your word processor, or by using a dedicated outlining program.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.

Enhancing creativity

Writers often start a project by brainstorming, scribbling down notes, or getting ideas through idea clustering or mind mapping. (See lesson on Creativity Using Graphical Outlines.)

But once you get past the brainstorming phase, you want to be able to put your ideas in some logical order. This is where using word processor outlining tools or dedicated outliners become useful.

Look at overview

In many writing projects—especially those that are relatively large—it is easy to get lost among the words and paragraphs. Having the capability of taking a step back to look at an overview of your document, such as in an outline form, can stimulate your mind and give ideas where different areas can be improved.

In other words, when you see the outline, you are going back to the original purpose of your document. This focus puts you back on the right direction and helps rejuvenate your creative juices.

Helps creativity

Therefore, I believe that it is a good idea to write your material on a word processor that allows you to outline paragraph headings or in a dedicated outliner program. Your creativity is enhanced.

Enhancing productivity

Nothing is worse than getting lost or repeating ideas in a large document. Using the outlining capability, you can keep ideas organized in distinct sections. Also, if the logical flow doesn't seem right, or if you get a new direction for the material, you can re-arrange the outline to suit your purpose. This all increases your productivity.

I found that I work best by outlining the headings in my work. In this way, I can put down major thoughts and ideas, add sub-ideas and elaboration, and then rearrange those thoughts into something readable.

Outlining tools

Although this lesson is not meant as an endorsement of any products, it is worthwhile to mention some popular outliners.

Microsoft Word and other word processors

Microsoft Word is the largest selling word processor. It's outlining capability is reasonable good, although it doesn't have some of the clever features a program like GrandView had. I've set up shortcut keys to quickly assign a heading to an outline heading, which has dramatically improved its usefulness.

Other major word processors also have outlining capabilities similar to Word's.


An interesting program is Inspiration by Inspiration Software. This application is a combination outliner and flowchart program. You can look at your work in either format. It isn't that easy to use, because it uses obscure shortcut key combinations, but it allows the user to insert notes in different outline levels.


There are a number of new shareware outliners that use the Windows Help metaphor (expandable books) to aid in navigation. Many are worth investigating.


Outlining can improve your creativity and productivity. Most word processors have outlining features and there are a number of dedicated outliners available.

A well-organized document helps the readers understand the material

Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials


How to Write an Outline That Will Earn an A+ Grade - by Jack Milgram

Outlining an Essay the Quick and Easy Way -

Prewriting and Outlining - University of Maryland

John Jay College of Criminal Justice - Basic Outlining

Writing Resources


Top-rated books on Outlining

Students and researchers

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