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How to Outlining

How to Outline... by Outlining


Everyone tells you to outline before you begin your paper. But what exactly is an outline and why do you need one? An outline is a method of brainstorming or pre-writing that helps you organize your thoughts and plot out your paper. The structure of an outline forces you to begin to group your ideas and allows you to physically see the development of your arguments. Hopefully the process of outlining will become clearer after this worksheet outline!


1. Introduction

a. Intro paragraphs introduce your topic as well as set up your argument, or thesis.

b. Introductions are often described as an inverted triangle (start broad, then narrow down to thesis).

c. Include your thesis, or what you think might be your thesis, here. Typically outlining occurs in the prewriting stages of a paper, so you don't have to have your argument completely fleshed out already. A thesis develops (and often changes!) during the writing process.

2. Body Paragraph 1 (first topic sentence goes here)

a. The first body paragraph should be about your first argument or the first part of your thesis.

i. Again, outlining is a form of prewriting, so if you don't have your topic sentences written out yet, simply having the subject of your first argument is fine, too.

b. Include examples of textual evidence that you'll use to support your argument.

i. Sometimes just listing passages or important quotes relevant to your first argument or topic can help spur brainstorming and later provide material for your paper.

1. Include any analysis of the above passages/quotes.

c. List other ideas or interesting points that might strengthen, deepen, or complicate your first argument.

i. You don't have to integrate all these ideas into your final paper. Jotting them down now might prove useful later on when you're writing.

3. Subsequent Body Paragraphs

a. You can outline the rest of your body paragraphs in the same way as the format listed above for Body Paragraph 1.

i. Each following paragraph should include its own topic sentence.

1. Your body paragraphs should all be connected; the arguments presented in your body paragraphs should all build off of one another.

b. While you're outlining the order of your body paragraphs and arguments, they are no way set in stone. An outline is simply a method of organizing your thoughts. Don't let the structure of the outline constrain your creativity and ideas!

4. Conclusion

a. Just as a thesis includes the significance of your argument, conclusions present why your paper is significant and why it is worth reading.

i. However, it can be difficult to project what you will include in your conclusion when you're still prewriting.

b. You can use the conclusion to talk about larger issues or other ideas that are present in your argument, but that you didn't have time to discuss within your paper.


Remember, this is just an example of how you might outline your paper. Outlines are a way of brainstorming and prewriting and there is no one, correct way of writing one. Oftentimes, writers use different prewriting methods, such as creating flow charts or simply free writing. An outline can be a useful tool in terms of organizing your ideas; however, don't feel pressured to fit all of your ideas in the structure of one.


Caroline Lam

Student Learning Center, University of California, Berkeley

©2007 UC Regents



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.