As stated by “REA’s Handbook of English Grammar, Style, and Writing,” proceeding without an outline is like navigating a new city without a map. Unfortunately, most students new to essay writing are unfamiliar with how to outline an English paper. Students who neglect to use an outline often produce rambling, Faulkner-esque essays. Taking an hour to gather your thoughts and write an outline can save time writing the essay and lead to a better grade.
Acquaint yourself with an outline template. The Owl at Purdue states that most outlines use Roman numerals for essay sections (introduction, main points and conclusion) and, in descending order of specificity with indentations, capitalized letters, Arabic numerals and lowercase letters.
Start with the introduction. Include a fact or statistic to introduce the essay, or include background information on the issue or author discussed. At this stage in the writing process, listing the specific quote or tidbit of information is not necessary. Simply note its inclusion in the outline. State your thesis and list the three main points of the essay.
Outline the first theme of the essay in two or three words. For example, write “capitalism” if the topic of your paper is discussing themes of Ayn Rand’s book, “Atlas Shrugged.” List (as Arabic numerals within the template) three or more ways the book supports this theme, like “Dagney Taggart’s refusal of government assistance.” Because you will elaborate on these points upon writing the essay, keep the outline’s description of these points to one sentence. Repeat this process for the other two themes.
Gather supporting information. Go to the library, search the Internet or use your textbook to find credible sources that support your points. Color-code your themes to make the process easier: delegate one theme, “capitalism” in yellow, “individualism” in green and “objectivism” in blue. For all supporting quotes or page numbers, highlight it in a color that matches the theme to which it corresponds for easier reference.
On the outline, determine which point should be bolstered with the sources found. For example, the book’s metaphor for socialism found in the passage describing moldy government-subsidized soybeans would be placed in the theme, “capitalism” under the point, “Government failures.” Under this point (as a lower-case letter within the template), write the page number of the passage or write a short description of the source.
Write points for the conclusion. Dirk Siepmann, author of the book “Writing in English,” recommends using the conclusion to express outcomes of the issues discussed in the essay and give statements regarding open ends and unanswered questions.
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