Imagine you are required to write a paper, as is often required in college coursework. You know what your topic is (excellent start) and you know what you want to say (or, well, most of it) but you just aren’t sure how to organize it or even where to start. Often, putting the first words on paper is the hardest part of writing, and keeping the ideas of a paper organized can be the downfall of even wonderful writers.

But it doesn’t have to be this way!

A good outline can help get you started and show you the best way to organize your paper.

Here’s one way to write an outline:

1. Grab a piece of paper, and write down everything you want to talk about in the paper. For example, for a paper about “monkeys” you might write down “habitats” “mating habits” “evolutionary history” “physicality” and others.
2. On a separate sheet of paper, group like subjects with other similar subjects. What subtopics go together? Which ones don’t? If none of your ideas can be grouped together, it’s possible that your subject is too broad: in that case, consider narrowing the focus on your essay to something a little bit more manageable. Instead of writing just about monkeys, maybe choose to write about a specific type of monkey, or depending on the length of the paper, just one of the subjects listed above.
3. Now that you have your grouped together topics, make a list from the most important to the least important. Alternatively, you can organize them by broader topic into more specific ideas. Either way, there needs to be a logical plan in mind. Each paragraph should one focus on one topic before transitioning to the next. Any time you start a new topic, start a new paragraph.

Now that you have an outline, see how easy it is to start writing! The paper now has goals and organization—all that’s needed is to fill in the blanks with words and thoughts—the ideas are already on paper.