Wednesday, February 1, 2017

How to write an outline

Oh, no, it's "the dreaded 'Outline' assignment time"!  

Okay, just because this idea gets a lot of grief (and hits) on this site by desperate students (I was once a D.S.), here's a sample.  I ALSO recommend you look at my post on thesis statements and also topic sentences.

That's all an outline REALLY is: a thesis statement plus the breakdown of each paragraph's topic sentence background.
Oh. Why didn't they tell us (me) that when I was younger?
(It was too easy to explain it that way, I think.)

Note:  for a GOOD outline to work, THINK (and write down) WHY/WHAT makes the idea important--why the idea of the thesis is unique; why it matters; how it has value, importance, or SOME other special quality--then GENERALIZE those ideas as the thesis. DON'T use them in the thesis--SAVE them to chop apart in each topic sentence! THAT alone will help you broaden out the sub-paragraphing needed to create the rest of the outline format.  (That means "You use the topic sentences to expand the paragraph...."). "Gee, Mr. Lopate...this works."  (Yep.)


An outline breaks down the parts of your thesis in a clear, hierarchical manner. Most students find that writing an outline before beginning the paper is most helpful in organizing one's thoughts. If your outline is good, your paper should be easy to write.

The basic format for an outline uses an alternating series of numbers and letters, indented accordingly, to indicate levels of importance. Here is an example of an outline on a paper about the development of Japanese theater.  (Yes, I modified this from the original; the thesis was too bland. I underlined my inclusion of three unique concepts to add some more "power" to the outline itself.) 

I. Thesis: Japanese theater rose from a popular to elite form based on social and cultural, historical, and religious influences (some unique to Japan) and then returned to a popular art form.

The thesis is stated in the first section, which is the introduction.

II. Early theatrical forms
A. Bugaku
B. Sarugaku
C. Primitive Noh
D. Authors and Audience
III. Noh theater
A. Authors
B. Props
1. Masks
a. women
b. demons
c. old men
2. Structure of Stage
C. Themes
1. Buddhist influence
2. The supernatural
D. Kyogen interludes
E. Audience
IV. Kabuki
A. Authors
B. Props
1. make-up
2. special effects
C. Themes
1. Love stories
2. Revenge
D. Audience
V. Bunraku (puppet) theater
A. Authors
B. Props
C. Themes
1. Love stories
2. Historical romances
D. Audience

The body follows the introduction, and breaks down the points the author wishes to make.
Note that some section have subdivisions, others do not, depending on the demands of the paper.
In this outline, II, III, & IV all have similar structure, but this will not necessarily be true for all papers. Some may only have three major sections, others more than the five given here.

VI. Conclusion
Your conclusion should restate your thesis, and never introduce new material.

No comments: