To Grow to Be a Successful Lawyer: The Next Step: Outlining

The next step is to create an outline. I need to arrange my thoughts in a logical order so that I know what to discuss first, and what to discuss second, and what to discuss third. And I need to determine whether there are sub-issues or sub-categories and if so, what main idea do they belong to? Or is the idea not a sub-issue at all, but actually a separate point?

To accomplish this, I look at the notes I made during the pre-writing stage and re-organize them, usually on paper. Then I further re-organize them by drawing lines between phrases or circling words or drawing arrows between sentences so I can see what parts go together best. Sometimes I’ll realize that the discussion will make more sense if I arrange it in an entirely different order. If using a computer, I cut-and-paste to rearrange.

Once I have accomplished that, I prepare a more formal outline. It is hierarchical in nature, meaning that it has the first or most important issue first, followed by its sub-issues in a logical flow, and then the next issue, followed by its sub-issues in a logical flow. I also insert into the outline, at the appropriate space, the names of the cases or statutes that I will use to support my position.

After I’ve made a detailed outline like this, I’m ready to write. In fact, the first draft can almost write itself. I simply have to follow my outline and fill in details. But of course there will be a need for revisions and editing, which will be the topic of my next blog entry.

What steps do you take as part of the pre-writing stage? Have you found a difference in outlining on paper vs. outlining on a computer screen?