20 Outlining

Creating an Outline

A strong outline is like a road map for your research paper. Outlining can help you maintain a clear focus in your research essay because an outline helps you see your whole paper in a condensed form, which can help you create a good plan for how you’ll organize your research and develop your ideas.

Just as there are different types of essays, there are different outline structures appropriate to different fields and different types of essay assignments. You’ll want to consult with your instructor about any specific organizational requirements, but the following pages will provide you with some basic examples of outline structures for research papers in several different fields. (31)

Outlining: Traditional

In many of your courses, you’ll be asked to write a traditional, thesis-based research essay. In this structure, you provide a thesis, usually at the end of your introduction, body paragraphs that support your thesis with research, and a conclusion to emphasize the key points of your research paper. You’ll likely encounter this type of assignment in classes in the humanities, but you may also be asked to write a traditional research paper in business classes and some introductory courses in the sciences and social sciences.

In the accompanying sample, you’ll see a basic structure that can be modified to fit the length of your assignment. It’s important to note, in shorter research essays, each point of your outline might correspond to a single paragraph, but in longer research papers, you might develop each supporting point over several paragraphs.

Traditional Outline Sample

  1. Introduction
    1. background, context for topic
    2. background, context for topic
    3. background, context for topic
  2. Subdivision 1
    1. supporting detail
      1. example 1
      2. example 2
    2. supporting detail
      1. example 1
      2. example 2
    3. supporting detail
      1. example 1
      2. example 2
  3. Subdivision 3
  4. Subdivision 4
  5. Subdivision 5
    1. review central ideas presented in body and make connection to thesis
    2. transition to closing thoughts
    3. closing thoughts (32)

Drafting a Topic Proposal

After you have selected a topic, narrowed it down sufficiently to suit the needs of your writing assignment, located and evaluated some resources, and organized your ideas into an outline, it is useful to formalize your plan by writing a topic proposal. Many courses in higher education (and particularly those courses you may encounter in your final year of studies) require that students compose a topic proposal.

Writing a proposal accomplishes a few goals: it gets you oriented to the writing process and helps you develop a stronger sense of your audience, purpose, and focus in your work.

For this course, the topic proposal for your research argument should address the following areas:

  • Summary
  • Purpose
  • Audience
  • Opening Statement, Thesis, or Hypothesis
  • Method, Materials, and Data
  • Expected Ourcomes

The summary is just that—a brief synopsis of the subject and the subdivisions you hope to explore in your research argument.

The purpose section should detail the goals of the paper. Research arguments serve to educate, persuade, inform, create awareness, and analyze—among other common goals. In this section, you will want to discuss the objectives of your work.

In your discussion of audience, you’ll want to consider your piece’s suitability beyond the instructor that is reading it. What does a general audience already understand about your topic? Are there any vocabulary terms that you’ll need to clarify for a general audience? What are the demographics of the target audience you are writing to if you were to publish this piece in a journal or magazine? Is your audience assumed to be hostile, neutral, or captive on your subject?

You will want to take some time developing a potential thesis statement. What is your narrowed topic + your main ideas? Which subdivisions will you explore in your work?

In the section on method, materials, and data, you might discuss whether you are using induction or deduction as a guiding approach to argumentation. Do you plan to conduct personal interviews or distribute a survey? Which specific sources will you be using? It is not enough to state that you are using Internet articles in this section. You are encouraged, however, to list any specific article titles and/or authors that you will be using to support your research argument in this section of your topic proposal. (1)


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