How To Write Outlines For Essays English

This is a formal outline for your final research paper. It will present your thesis, the major points in support of that thesis, and the sub-points supporting each major point. It may have additional levels of sub-sub-points if you feel that is necessary.

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:

  1. This is the first main point
    1. This is the first sub-point under I
    2. This is the second sub-point under I
      1. Sub-point B has its own sub-points
      2. But you�d only list them if there were more than one
  2. Here�s the second main point
    1. It has two sub-points
    2. But this one has no sub-sub points

(If you�re using Microsoft Word, you might find yourself getting frustrated by its �helpful� approach to formatting lists. My advice is, don�t sweat the formatting too much. I�d prefer that you follow this or a similar format, but the main thing is that the relations among ideas should be clear. The reader should be able to see at a glance which are the main points, which are the secondary points, which are at the third level of importance, and so on. It should also be obvious which secondaery points belong under which main points. Usually this is accomplished by using different numbering for different levels, and indenting the less important levels. But if you can�t make that work, do whatever you have to so that the relationships are clear.)

Some guidelines for formal outlines are presented in “Developing an Outline” at the Purdue University Online Writing Lab. Please follow those guidelines when writing your outline.

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

  1. Write out your thesis at the top of the page.
  2. 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.
  3. On a new page, write your first main point. This is the thesis for that section of the paper.
  4. 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.
  5. These are your sub-points for that section.
  6. 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 statement at the start of the outline, and cite and list your sources.

Sample Outline #2

Title: The FederalistPapers’ Influence on the Ratification of the Constitution

Thesis: The Federalist Papers influenced the ratification of the Constitution by making some of their most important arguments, including the importance of being in a Union by having a Constitution, answering to the objections made by the Anti-federalists about separation of powers, and defending opposing arguments made against the characteristics of the executive and judicial branch as provided in the Constitution.

            I.     Introduction

a.      Describe The Federalist Papers are and when they started

b.     Thesis:The Federalist influenced the ratification of the Constitution by making some of their most important arguments, including the importance of being in a Union by having a Constitution, answering to the objections made by the Anti-federalists about separation of powers, and defending opposing arguments made against the characteristics of the executive and judicial branch as provided in the Constitution.

          II.     Background

a.      State when The Federalist was printed and published.

b.     Discuss the intentions and purposes of The Federalist.

        III.     Argument for the benefit of a

a.      A would guard against external dangers

b.     A would guard against internal dangers

A.    The “extended sphere” argument about how it will control factions. (Federalist 10)

       IV.     Argument of the problem with complete separation of powers

a.      Anti-federalists wanted a complete separation of the judicial, executive, and legislative branches

b.     The Federalist said the maxim of complete separation of powers is misunderstood. (Montesquieu)

c.      The branches need some limited power of the other branches to protect themselves from encroachment of the other branches (Federalist 51)

A.    The branches need to have the interests of maintaining their powers, and not letting the other branches take that away.

         V.     Argument for a single executive, and against a plural executive

a.      Anti-federalists didn’t want a single executive, too much like a monarch

b.     The Federalist need the executive to be “energetic” and a plural executive would make this impossible (Federalist 70)

A.    It would take too long for the people in the executive position to make decision in an emergency, because they might disagree.

B.    In a plural executive, it is hard to tell who is responsible for a wrongdoing because they can all blame each other, so a single executive would lead to more responsible behavior

       VI.     Argument in favor of judicial review and terms of good behavior for judges

a.      Anti-federalists didn’t like judicial review and the term of good behavior

b.     The Federalist argued that judicial review was necessary to protect the judicial branch from the Legislature.

c.      A term of good behavior was necessary to get qualified people for the positions; it would also give them time to develop knowledge.

     VII.     Conclusion

a.      Thesis

b.     The dates of the ratification of the Constitution by the States

c.      The Federalist’s influence beyond the ratification

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