Just like a carpenter or an engineer or anyone trying to build or create something a writer or a student required to submit an academic paper cannot write without a clear plan and the proper tools. Clarity of thought and a well-developed plan is necessary for anybody with a writing task whether it is a term paper, a college essay, a business report or your very own manuscript.
Elements of a Good Outline
It takes a great deal of determination and a healthy dose of self-criticism for someone to evaluate his own work, and this is especially true in any writing assignment or exercise. The best way for you to end up with an organized, well-written paper is having an outline that would map out your thoughts, your message, your research or your arguments in a clear and structured manner.
Here are the main elements for an outline to help you get started:
- Clarity of thought: We tend to think of a research paper or any task that requires a good amount of research and writing, as one complete whole but that isn’t the case. Staring down at a blank paper or computer screen can be nerve-wracking when you’re trying to squeeze something inside your head somewhere that you’re sure just needs a little push to be put into words. An effective outline would help you stand up when you trip or hit a brick wall, and set you on course again.
- Strong arguments: As you write, you will likely go on or continue without much thought of your points or arguments anymore, confident that you can always edit and polish your work later. An outline will allow you to do that and at the sane tiebreak down your long sentences into their main points with their supporting arguments. Following an outline before getting into the actual writing will give you an opportunity to get the main argument and see if your supporting ideas are strong enough to hold your argument.
- Focus: Your outline will need to serve its purpose in setting the focus for the argument. Without it, you’ll easily go off tangent since we tend to be at the mercy of our often jumbled thoughts, with our ideas suddenly lost in a maze, until you realize too late that your writing lacks coherence and any clear point you may have established are already void of supporting details. A proper outline always needs to stay on course. Don’t go jumping from one point to another without settling your key arguments or thought.
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Steps to Design a Great Outline
Writing an outline is less intimidating than looking at a blank page in starting the actual writing task but it doesn’t come without a challenge. The following are your main elements for writing an outline that would help you end up with a winning paper later:
- Determine the purpose of your paper: Is this an assignment given to you? If so, you have to know why the professor assigned the particular topic for your writing task. If it is a research paper, you have to understand why you chose this topic or study. There must be a bigger purpose behind every writing task than just accepting it or preparing to do it for compliance’s sake, otherwise, you will struggle or won’t even know how to begin.
- Gather information: If you already established a purpose for your paper, the next step is where the real work for the outline starts. Research. Select the materials you have to study or use as your guide and sources. Plan the structure of your paper and determine the kind of information you need to put together a well-written paper. Once you have gathered enough information, evaluate their relevance to your writing project and ditch the ones that don’t contribute much to your subject, topic or study.
- Pick your thesis statement: In order for your writing to maintain a unified thought, you must uncover the theme pervading its parts. This could be difficult so try going over the information you have gathered and check if there is a pattern or a prevailing theme you can use. If it’s too wordy, break it down in sentences and see if any of those sentences can be the starting point for a strong thesis statement. This is also very helpful in keeping track or regaining your train of thought once the actual writing starts.
- Write the outline: Now that you have a structure and a thesis statement, you can begin writing the outline. Write down your main points and approach your article with a writing style you’re most comfortable of using unless you’ve been asked to follow a strict format, in which case you just have to think of ways of how you can exercising your writing style best. After writing the outline, go over it and make sure it is organized.
Tips in Writing/Designing An Outline
While an outline can help you map out and organize your ideas, you may need to do a bit more pre-writing tasks to get a great start for your academic paper. To end up with a better outline which in turn would help you end up with a well-written paper, here are three tips you can use:
- Free writing: Write without stopping for about ten minutes. Write anything that comes into your mind and leaves the editing for later. When you’re already out of breathing or words, read what you have written and get the most useful ideas or information. Do this exercise again using the information you got as your starting point and repeat the process until your ideas are well-developed and refined.
- Clustering: Write your topic in the center of a paper and encircle or underline it for emphasis later. Draw a couple or three more lines from that circle and at the end of each line, write down any idea related to your main idea. Draw more lines from those ideas and write something that corresponds to those ideas again until your cluster is developed or until you think you have explored enough connections in your ideas to make one tangible whole.
- Questioning: Use the basics of journalism headline-writing by jotting down the 4 Ws and one H. “Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How? are questions you can answer in detail so that your ideas are developed well and areas of the topic you failed to explore would be exposed more through your answers.
Types of Outlines
There are two main types of outlines used in academic writing:
1. Topic Outline: From its name, a topic outline gives an overview of possible topics you can use or include in an essay or composition. Check your course syllabus. From looking at what’s going to be covered for the entire semester, you’ll also notice that it can be considered as an equivalent to a topic outline, with topics listed down, including reading assignments and term papers required.
2. Sentence Outline: The thesis statement and main argument of a sentence outline need to have the supporting points or paragraphs written out completely. This type of outline will require you to write the part of the essay in sentences before your first draft is completed.
Outline Template Sizes
An outline is usually printed in paper sizes with the standard as A4 & US Sizes.
What is an outline?
An outline is a summary or a plan mapped out for a writing project or an academic paper. It is usually structured in the form of a list which is divided into headings with subheadings that separates the main ideas from supporting points.
What is the significance of writing an outline?
Writing an outline helps you break down lengthy texts into useful, clear ideas and its supporting arguments. As you write the outline for a writing assignment or research, you’ll get to see and identify the things or ideas that makes your arguments weak.
How helpful is an outline of the writing process?
An outline essentially helps a writer from hitting a “brick wall” or getting stuck when starting the actual writing of the paper.
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