The Topic Outline

March 27, 2013 § Leave a comment

I like to think old dogs can learn new tricks.

The more I teach students about writing, the more I learn that old writing habits die hard. Despite what your friends may tell you, Red Bull is not the way to a well-written essay. If you’ve ever been in the 11th hour thinking “there’s got to be a better way,” then this post is for you.

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Q. What is a topic outline?

A. Topic outlines are used to display material so that relationships among ideas are clear and so that the content is orderly –Troyka (2002).

Anyone who has ever written anything has probably used some kind of informal outline to envision what they want the final product to look like. A topic outline is simply a planning strategy that acts as an intermediary activity between researching and writing. Typically ongoing as you take notes, topic outlines are organizational tools for your eyes only that are re-visted and re-vised throughout the writing process.

There really isn’t a wrong way to outline, and there are many different types of outlines. You may have learned how to create an essay outline back in homeroom. Need a refresher? Here’s a basic outline that can be adjusted for almost all research papers.

Working thesis Statement: (I always start with a working thesis statement. The thesis of your paper is usually a single sentence that formulates both your topic and your point of view. Everything that subsequently appears in the outline should be in the attempt to advance the thesis.)

I. First main idea

A. First subdivision of the first main idea

1. First reason/example

2. Second reason/example

B. Second Subdivision of the first main idea

1. First reason/example

2. Second reason/example

II. Second main idea

A. First subdivision of the second main idea

1. First reason/example

2. Second reason/example

B. Second Subdivision of the second main idea

1. First reason/example

2. Second reason/example

III. Third main idea

A. First subdivision of the third main idea

1. First reason/example

2. Second reason/example

B. Second Subdivision of the third main idea

1. First reason/example

2. Second reason/example

Conclusion: (It is sometimes useful to have a ‘place marker’ for your conclusion and to jot down notes or points you think will be relevant to re-state as you sum up your paper.)

Some TIPS for using an outline

Shaping a Structure for the Paper

You can add or subtract from the number of main ideas, subdivisions, and examples to suit your paper’s need. The objective is to logically develop your paper’s main objective.

Working the Outline While you Research

Begin your outline as soon as you’ve selected a topic for the paper. As you research, you can add sources, quotations, and notes to the outline. in addition to planning the structure of the paper, outlines are helpful for keeping your research organized.

Make Connections

The outline’s primary function is to help you visualize connections between your ideas. Each main idea should be connected to the thesis and each subdivision should be connected to each main idea and so forth.

Too Much vs. Too Little Information

With outlines, unless you’ve been given strict instruction, there is no such thing as to much or too little. You can use short phrases and keywords (called a topic outline) or use full sentences and paragraphs (called a sentence outline).

Re-vise and Re-visit the Outline Often

You will start with a very rough document and by the time you are ready to write, you should have a more polished final product that you will then re-visit continually until the paper is complete. Using the outline as a reference is the key to keeping your ideas focused and clearly organized.

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