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Old Tuesday, June 21, 2016
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Default Creating an Effective Outline

Why Outline?

Outlining your paper before you begin writing may seem like an extra step or a waste of time. However, it is an essential part of the writing process that can actually save you time as you draft your essay and will help strengthen your final product immensely.

First, outlining can help you to avoid the terror of the blank page by taking a big task and breaking it up into smaller tasks. When you feel lost in terms of what to write, an outline can give you guidance as to what should come next. Further, essays are not catalogs of information. They are organized around a central purpose, or thesis. An outline helps you to visualize, and stick to, this purpose. Finally, outlines help you to identify gaps in your reasoning or research and fix these problems.

Types of Outlines

An outline can take many forms:

Mind maps
Free-writing and reverse outlining
Formal Outlines

Mind Maps

A mind map is an informal or pictorial outline.
Begin by writing your thesis in the center of the page.
Draw branches to represent ideas and concepts that you now associate with the thesis. Make as many as you can.

Advantages of Using Mind Maps
They can act as a form of brainstorming what you need to cover in your paper.
They can work very well for visual learners and global thinkers (people who like to see the big picture).
They can help to clarify the overall direction of your thinking.

Disadvantages of Using Mind Maps
They do not allow you to see the order in which to write about your ideas.
Some people may find them overwhelming to look at or learn from.
After creating a mind map, you may still need to make a more formal outline to help you to clarify the structure of your essay.

Free-writing and Reverse Outlining

If you feel stuck and do not know where to start, try free-writing. Just write about your topic without thinking about structure or grammar. Set yourself a time limit and just write.

You can then go back and try to create an outline based on what you have written. This means examining your writing, just as you would a scholarly article or book that you have read, and identifying what your thesis is. You can then put this at the top of your reverse outline and list the associated points that are made in your free-writing. You can even free-write and reverse outline an entire first draft.

Advantages of Using Free-writing and Reverse Outlines
They can help you get past writer’s block.
They can help you to think through your ideas without the constraints of formal writing.

Disadvantages of Using Free-writing and Reverse Outlines
You need to make sure to create an outline of your free-writing so that you can apply it to your formal draft.
They can be very time consuming as you often cannot use much of what you free-write in your final essay. Indeed, you will absolutely need to resist the urge to treat your free-writing as a formal draft of the essay.

Blocking Your Argument

Blocking your argument can be a good first step toward making a formal outline. Blocking involves dividing up your thesis into smaller blocks that need to be proven. You can almost think of blocking in the same way as you would a math problem: in order to end up proving your thesis, what steps do you need to take first, second, third, and fourth? Perhaps the best way to understand blocking is by example. Examine the thesis below. Ask yourself, what steps would I need to take in order to prove this thesis? What do I need to demonstrate and in what order should I develop the main points?

Thesis: During the 1920s, the image of the ideal American woman underwent dramatic changes in terms of athleticism, sexuality, and fashion. While these changes seemed to make women more liberated, in reality, they had little impact on most women’s everyday lives.

My thinking: This thesis contains three basic things that I need to prove. 1) During the 1920s, the image of the ideal American woman underwent dramatic changes in terms of athleticism, sexuality, and fashion. 2) These changes seemed to make women more liberated 3) In reality, they had little impact on most women’s everyday lives.

My thinking: In order to prove that there was a change in femininity in the 1920s, I need to first show what ideals of womanhood were like before this period.

Argument 1: Before the 1920s, the ideal American woman was seen as domestic and virginal and was portrayed in very restrictive, feminine clothing.

My thinking: Now that I have shown what the image of womanhood was like before the 1920s, I can use evidence from the 1920s to show that there was a change.

Argument 1.5: During the 1920s, this image changed as the physically fit, overtly sexual, and masculine-dressed flapper became the new ideal.

My thinking: The next part of my thesis promises to show what these changes seemed to be. I need to show this now.

Argument 2: This new ideal seemed to make women more liberated.

My thinking: I need to end by fulfilling the final part of my thesis and showing that women found little new freedom in reality.

Argument 3: In reality, it had little impact on women’s everyday lives.

I have now blocked my argument. For a full outline, I could fill in each argument with examples.

Advantages to Blocking Your Argument
It can help you to identify exactly what you need to prove.
It can show you the order in which to discuss your ideas.
It will help to ensure that your thesis is used as a the center of your essay and that all of your arguments are related to your thesis.

Disadvantages to Blocking Your Argument
It can be difficult to do if your thesis is not worded clearly.

Formal Outlines

A formal outline is hierarchical and linear. It shows the stages of development of the essay in relation to each other and the order in which they will be discussed. It also shows the evidence that you will use to support your ideas. Even when creating a formal outline, do not worry too much about which roman numerals or letters you are using. Just make sure that you are breaking your thesis down into smaller arguments (just as you did in blocking) and then developing each argument through examples.

Below you will find the basic format for a formal outline. Click here for a sample of a formal outline.

Major Point 1
A. Evidence
1. detail
B. Evidence
Major Point 2
A. Evidence
B. Evidence
1. detail
2. detail
a. even more detail
i. even more detail
Major Point 3, etc.

Advantages of Outlining
It will provide you with a clear road map of what to write and in what order.
It can help you to identify areas where you need more evidence or arguments that are not really relevant to your paper.
It lists your evidence and will thus save you time when you begin writing.

Disadvantages of Outlining
It can be time consuming to create.
Some people find them overwhelming to create or use.

Outline Checklist

Regardless of the type of outline you chose to create, keep the following questions in mind:

Have you place your thesis at the top? Does every main division and sub-division relate to and advance your thesis?
Does your outline give space to all of the ideas that are essential to your essay?
Are ideas of the same level of generality ranked equally in your outline?
Are ideas arranged in the most effective order?
Are the evidence and details subordinated under an appropriate section?

The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion !
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