Whether for a goal, group project or written assignment, outlines provide organization. Planning your essay, narrative or report before you write saves time and makes the final product stronger and more convincing for the reader. Once you have brainstormed for ideas, you can organize the material into a blueprint that plans the main points, the sequence and evidence of your assignment.

Select a Topic

Your instructor might assign you a specific topic about which you must write; if not, you can select your own topic. It is important to pick a topic that you find interesting and about which you have something to say. Common high school writing topics -- in addition to prompts that ask students to analyze a piece of literature -- include Internet use, curfews, bullying, texting while driving, school uniforms, stereotypes in the media and sex education in schools.

Gather Ideas

Once you have selected the topic, you must brainstorm to gather as many ideas, arguments, opinions and facts as possible. Whether you use free writing, listing or cluster mapping, brainstorming is an important step in the prewriting process because the content generated in this phase becomes the content in the outline. The key to brainstorming is to write everything that comes to mind in relation to the topic without worrying about grammar or the validity of your ideas -- save the judging for when you select which ideas and points to incorporate in the outline.

Thesis Statement

The first step of the outline and the most important part of any essay, narrative or report is the thesis statement. This single sentence guides all the direction, analysis and evidence that follows it -- it is the purpose of your writing. A thesis statement should be narrow enough that it can be thoroughly covered in a single essay. For example, the statement "War is harmful" is too broad and leaves too many unanswered questions. A thesis statement should be broad enough to be debatable while also making a single, specific and provable point.

Outline Structure

The outline is the skeleton of the larger project. It determines the main points and the order in which the content will be presented. The Los Angeles Valley College Libray advises that an effective outline order moves "from the general to the specific. This means you begin with a general idea and then support it with specific examples." Using Roman numerals, each of which represents a separate paragraph or talking point, you will list each of the major points and subpoints. The first Roman numeral represents the introduction and should be the thesis statement. Each subsequent point represents subpoints that serve to support and develop the primary point. More elaborate outlines can include specific examples as well.