Back in grade school, it was a class requirement to create an outline and submit it for grading before a paper could be written. I came to appreciate the requirement, as it transformed my unstructured prose into well-organized and thoughtful pieces. Although an outline is supposed to be a general plan for written material, it’s very specific in its composition. This ordered nature helps provide the structural foundation by defining key ideas and defining relevant components.
But the only way an outline can be helpful is if it’s created properly. Too often, people ignore the basic rules of outlining and instead just jot down ideas. If the basics are ignored, the structure is weak and negates the whole outlining process.
Rule #1 – Write your thesis out completely.
Use a full and complete sentence for your thesis. Sure, you’re just writing an outline. But if your entire paper revolves around your thesis, shouldn’t that be the one sentence that comes easily? This thesis should be in the first paragraph of your piece.
Rule #2 – Pick an outline type and stick with it.
Be consistent in your outlining approach. There are two approaches to outlining: sentence and topic. A sentence approach is named so because each bullet point is a sentence used within that part of the structure. A topic approach defines the general topic of the bullet point only, with full content to be determined later.
Rule #3 – Use ordered lists to organize your outline.
By using numbers and letters, the outline defines the order of topic presentation; it determines the central idea of the section and the dependent thoughts that support that idea.
Rule #4 – Every A has a B.
There is ALWAYS at least two parts to every idea. If you have a topic A, you must have a topic B.
Thesis: Although an outline is supposed to be a general plan for written material, it’s very specific in its composition.
I. Essential to Structure
A. People often ignore
B. Rules to follow
1. Thesis development
2. Outline type
a. Sentence approach
b. Topic approach
3. Ordered lists
4. Minimum two parts
II. Sample Outline
Do you create outlines when you write? Have you found they improve the composition, organization and flow of your work?