Outlines: a Misunderstood (Mis-Taught?) Writers' Tool

        Do outlines help you write?  If not, perhaps you are outlining at the wrong points in the paper's development?  Typically, outlines are taught as part of some mythic time called "pre-writing" when writers are preparing everything they will later write.  However, most writers do not know all they have to say until they have tried to write it out.  For that reason, many experienced writers use only the loosest "topic lists" to guide rough draft production.

        Outlines are very powerful tools for seeing a paper's main points after you have produced a draft.  You often can spot missing pieces or mistakes in paragraph order more easily if you look at a post-drafting outline that carefully describes the draft's construction.  Compare what you thought you wrote (the topic list or phrase outline) to what you actually wrote in the paper draft.  Adjust paragraph order and transition to improve logical flow, and develop missing pieces to bridge gaps that would cause readers to object to or misread your flow of ideas.