An outline helps you to organize your ideas and put them in the order that you will write about them in your essay. Skipping this step usually makes the actual writing of the essay harder. You might find yourself scrambling to find the specific lines or facts from your research that you want to use. You might find yourself writing a disorganized jumble of facts and ideas that jumps around instead of flowing clearly. You might just find yourself unable to start the paper, caught sitting in front of a blank document while you try to figure out where to start.
Doing an outline can help you to avoid these pitfalls. Once you have brainstormed your topic and gathered your research for the paper, you should organize your ideas and research in an outline. When it comes time to actually do your outline, you have a number of options. Many writers who have never done outlines before usually find one of thee types of outline the easiest: the alphanumeric outline, the decimal outline and
the full sentence outline .
An alphanumeric outline uses four types of characters to represent different parts of your paragraph. Though people sometimes do alphanumeric outlines a bit differently from one another, the typical way that an alphanumeric outline works is to use Roman numerals to represent your subtopics, capital letters for your supporting details that explain the subtopics and Arabic numerals and lowercase letters for commentary to explain the importance of the supporting details. You may use phrases, full sentences or a mixture of both in this outline. This is a popular outline for writers because it’s fairly vague and not too time-consuming.
Our second choice is the decimal outline. Similar to the alphanumeric outline, the decimal outline still lacks many clear specifics but does allow for more expansion, showing how each sub-idea relates to the larger whole. Notice how this outline uses a series of numbers with decimals to organize each detail.
Finally, there is the full sentence outline. The sentence outline is most often used in drafting traditional essays and is my personal favorite because the sentence outline requires full sentences instead of generality. True, this may take more time up front, but it will make the essay drafting process much easier in the long run.
Once you have written the outline, you should use it to help you write your paper. Put the outline in front of you as you type and follow it from top to bottom. You may even cross off each part of the outline after you’re done writing about it. This helps you to make sure that you have covered each piece of detail and commentary that you have placed in the outline in the order that you intend to cover them.
Research Paper Sentence Outline
The basic idea of a formal outline is that different types of letters or numbers (I, A, 1, a, i) represent different levels of the hierarchy of your paper, and sub-levels are indented below main levels. For example:
- This is the first main point
- This is the first sub-point under I
- This is the second sub-point under I
- Sub-point B has its own sub-points
- But you’d only list them if there were more than one
- Here’s the second main point
- It has two sub-points
- But this one has no sub-sub points
In addition to the elements of a formal outline, please also:
- Include a thesis statement at the start.
- Cite your sources: list all authors used in each section in parentheses at the end of that section
- Attach a list of sources that includes all the sources used for the outline and no others. This list may differ from the one you submitted for the Preliminary Bibliography, if you have added new sources or eliminated old ones.
Topic and Sentence Outlines
There are two major types of outline:
- Topic Outline
- Sentence Outline
A topic outline lists words or phrases. A sentence outline lists complete sentences.
A topic outline arranges your ideas hierarchically (showing which are main and which are sub-points), in the sequence you want, and shows what you will talk about. As the name implies, it identifies all the little mini-topics that your paper will comprise, and shows how they relate.
A sentence outline does all of this, plus it shows exactly what you will say about each mini-topic. Each sentence, instead of simply identifying a mini-topic, is like a mini-thesis statement about that mini-topic. It expresses the specific and complete idea that that section of the paper will cover as part of proving the overall thesis.
The method described below will produce a sentence outline.
Your sentence outline should, if done thoroughly and carefully, represent almost a first draft of your research paper. Once you’ve written it, the paper will practically write itself. You’ll just be filling in the blanks, so to speak—providing specific examples and other support to flesh out and prove the ideas you’ve already sketched out. The purpose, in other words, of doing this work is not to make work for you, but to save you work in the long run by breaking the job down into smaller, manageable tasks.
Tip: Outlines can be very detailed or very general, but the more detail you have the farther you’ll get toward writing your paper. Here’s an example. A paper of 12 pages (about 4,500 words) might have four major topics or points, represented by roman numerals (I – IV) in the outline. This would mean each point would represent about three pages of the final paper. These three pages will include background information, multiple sources, different pieces of evidence and explanation supporting that point, and often a brief description of alternative views and an explanation of why those views are not so convincing. Smaller points supporting each of the main points might then take up a single page, or 2 – 3 paragraphs—again with evidence, explanation, alternative views and so on. Finally, even smaller points under these might correspond to individual paragraphs in the final draft.
Writing the Sentence Outline
- Write out your thesis at the top of the page.
- Make a list of points you must prove to prove your thesis. What would someone have to agree with, in order to agree with the thesis?
- These will be the main sections of your paper. Like the thesis, these should be complete, declarative sentences—something you can either prove or disprove.
- On a new page, write your first main point. This is the thesis for that section of the paper.
- Make a list of the points you have to prove to prove that point. Just as with the main points, these should be complete, declarative sentences—statements you can prove or disprove.
- These are your sub-points for that section.
- Repeat the process for each of your main points.
Once you have the main points and supporting points written down, it’s time to start organizing. First make sure which are main and which are supporting points. For example, you may find that what you thought was a main point is really part of proving another main point. Or, what you first listed under a main point may need its own section. This may change as you continue to work on the outline and draft the paper.
Now you can decide what order you want to present your ideas in. Again, label them with letters or numbers to indicate the sequence.
Tip: Don’t just settle for one organization. Try out at least two different sequences. You’ll be surprised at the connections that emerge, the possibilities that open up, when you rearrange your ideas. You may find that your thesis suddenly snaps into focus, or that points that seemed unrelated in fact belong together, or that what you thought was a main idea is actually a supporting idea for another point. Good writing is all about re-vision, which literally means “seeing again”—seeing your work from a fresh perspective. You can do this at every stage of the writing process, and especially at the organization stage.
Finally, write up the outline in the order you’ve chosen. Remember to include a thesis statementt at the start of the outline, and cite and list your sources.
Make your claim and tell the reader what to expect, show relevance
INTRODUCTION (typically 1-2 paragraphs)
PURPOSE: To set up and state one’s claim or introduce a topic or idea. Make your introductory paragraph(s)interesting. How can you draw your readers in? What background information, if any, do we need to know in order to understand your claim?
STATE your claim at the end of your introductory paragraph(s) You have multiple options for opening an essay. Some options include:
Anecdote: A little story that frames what your essay is about.
Scene: Give readers a look at some aspect of your topic. Ex: Paper on tropical rainforest deforestation opens with description of land stripped of trees.
Profile: Introduce a person who is key to your topic. Ex: Case study.
Background: Provide important and surprising info about your topic.
Quotation: Open with a great quote that frames or captures your topic.
Dialogue: Open with a conversation between two people in your essay.Oneof these peoplecan be you.
Question: Ask your readers the question that launched your research orquestions they themselves might raise.
Contrast: Compare two apparently dissimilarthings that highlight the problem or question your paper will explore.
Announcement: Say what your paper is about; the thesis statement.
New Discussion of an Old Topic: Explain why an old topic is worth examining again.
Allusion: Refer to a work of art, music, literature, film, or to a religious, historical, or mythical person.
SUPPORTING EVIDENCE PARAGRAPH #1
PURPOSE:To prove your argument or explore your topic. Usually is one paragraph but it can be longer.
Topic Sentence: What is one item, fact, detail, or example you can tell your readers that will help them better understand your claim/paper topic? Your answer should be the topic sentence for this paragraph.
Explain Topic Sentence: Do you need to explain your topic sentence? If so, do so here.
Introduce Evidence: Introduce your evidence either in a few words (As Dr. Brown states ―…) or in a full sentence (―To understand this issue we first need to look at statistics).
State Evidence: What supporting evidence (reasons, examples, facts, statistics, and/or quotations) can you include to prove/support/explain your topic sentence?
Explain Evidence: How should we read or interpret the evidence you are providing us? How does this evidence prove the point you are trying to make in this paragraph? Can be opinion based and is often at least 1-3 sentences.
Concluding Sentence: End your paragraph with a concluding sentence that reasserts how the topic sentence of this paragraph helps us better understand and/or prove your paper’s overall claim. This also serves as a transition to your next evidence paragraph or counterargument paragraphs.
SUPPORTING EVIDENCE PARAGRAPH #2, #3, #4, etc.
|Note: You need as many Support paragraphs as required to reach page assignment minimumand to prove your point,but also keep in mind the Intro, Counterargument and Conclusion sections. Do not stretch or shorten any one area of the paper. |
What possible argument might your reader pose against your argument and/or some aspect of your reasoning? Insert one or more of those arguments here and refute them.
End final paragraph of counterargument with a concluding sentencethat reasserts your paper’s claim as a whole.
CONCLUSION PART 1: SUMMARY PARAGRAPH
|PURPOSE: In longer papers, this reminds readers of your argument/ focus and supporting evidence/ ideas, and torestate your paper’s overall claim and supporting evidence/ ideas. (1 paragraph)|
CONCLUSION PART 2: YOUR “So What?” PARAGRAPH
PURPOSE: To illustrate to your reader that you have thought critically and analytically about this issue.
Your conclusion should not simply restate your intro paragraph. If your conclusion says almost the exact same thing as your introduction, it may indicate that you have not shownenough critical thinking during the course of your essay.
Your conclusion should tell us why we should care about your paper. What is the significance of your claim? Why is it important to you as the writer or to usas the reader? What information should you or I take away from this?
Your conclusion should create a sense of movement to a more complex understanding of the subject of your paper. By the end of your essay, you should have worked through your ideas enough so that your reader understands what you have argued and is ready to hear the larger point (i.e. the “so what”) you want to make about your topic.
Your conclusion should serve as the climax of your paper. So, save your strongest analytical points for the end of your essay, and use them to drive your conclusion. However, do not include new information in your conclusion.
Vivid, concrete language is as important in a conclusion as it is elsewhere–perhaps moreessential, since the conclusion determines the reader’s final impression of your essay. Do not leave your audience with the impression that your argument was vague or unsure.