Creating An Outline


  • Outlines allow you to see exactly how the points of your essay will fit together before you start your rough draft. 
  • An outline will show you how your ideas relate, how abstract/concrete your ideas are, how much support you have, and what the overall structure of your argument will be. 
  • Outlines can also stimulate new thoughts for your topic.


Topic Outline

A topic outline should be used if the logical relationships between your ideas seem fully established. A topic outline might look like this:

  • Introduction
    -  Give background on the problem or issue (use chronological order)
    -  Display an overview of the problem
    -  State your thesis (the purpose of your paper)
  • Body
    -  Describe the current situation (use narrative)
    -  Show proof of the issue in detail (use illustration)
    -  Provide two possible solutions (use comparison)
  • Conclusion
    -  Recommend against the first solution for various weaknesses
    -  Recommend the second solution and state the benefits of doing so

Formal Outline

A formal outline should be used for careful evaluation of your ideas and their relationships to each other. A formal outline might look like the example here:

Thesis statement

A. First main topic
     1.  First subordinate idea
          a)  Backing evidence (examples, statistics, etc.)
          b)  Backing evidence
          c)  Backing evidence
     2.  Second subordinate idea
          a)  Backing evidence
          b)  Backing evidence

B.  Second main topic
      1.  First subordinate idea
           a)  Backing evidence
           b)  Backing evidence
                (1)   Specific backing detail
                (2)  Specific backing detail

Source: Lunsford, Andrea and Robert Connors.  The St. Martin's Handbook.  3rd ed.  New York: St. Martin's, 1995.