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Organizing Ideas: sub-module 2 of 3 of planning your writing

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.



  • Don’t just jump into writing. Planning pays!
  • 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

How to Use Graphic Organizers

Watch this video 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

An essay outline is the skeleton of an essay. It contains only the most important information, and helps the writer plan the essay. It also acts as a guide to writing the essay.
Writing an outline will help organize the ideas a writer has for an essay. Also, it provides a condensed look at the essay, which is useful in keeping the writer on track when the essay is being written. In addition, the writer can ensure that the subpoints always relate back to the thesis.

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 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 2 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

  1. General statement/attention getter: Attract the audience to read on; introduce the topic
    • Everyone has required the help of another person 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.
  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
    • Tailor the presentation of the concept to a student’s learning methodo
      • 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 to learn 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 work through 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
  1. Restate thesis in different words with your three points
    Tutoring can help students further their understanding of concepts learned from class in a one-on-one basis, by helping the student learn new strategies, and through the reinforcement of concepts.
  2. General or memorable statement
    Remember, learning is not a solitary journey, so don’t 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 related ideas or components of a subject.

Mind mapping websites:

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 brainstorming 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.

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 a problem and solution.

How to Use Concept Mapping

Watch this video to learn how to break down complex topics using concept mapping. You can also download the How to Use Concept Mapping Video Transcript.