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Subsection 4.1.3 Outlining

While outlining might take up precious writing time in your schedule, the payoff is worth it! By clearly organizing your ideas in a way that makes sense to you, you give yourself a guide to follow while you're writing. The act of making an outline also requires you to write down all of your brilliant ideas so that, by the time you start writing, you don't forget what you've come up with. Use what you've developed during your brainstorming and planning sessions to create a more cohesive, organized, and complete outline that contains the major parts of your argument: your introduction, thesis, supporting claims, evidence, and conclusion. Remember that while ordering your claims you should try to think of your essay as a progression rather than a series of points; each claim should both respond to and build off of the previous one. Just as with brainstorming, your outline can be in any form that works best with the structure of the assignment and the way you want to think about your paper. While you're creating your outline, ask yourself these types of questions:

Helpful Questions 4.1.5. Outlining.

  • Do each of my claims follow a purposeful pattern or sequence?

  • Is this pattern chronological? Logic-based? In order of importance? Compare-contrast?

  • Am I giving my audience everything they need to fully understand my argument?

  • Does the order of my claims merely list points or does it culminate toward a larger argument?

  • Does my argument naturally follow from the claims I presented, in the order I presented them?

  • Does the order of my claims roughly follow the arrangement of my thesis?

Read on to learn about a few (but not all!) outline formats you can try.

Subsubsection The Classic Outline

The classic outline is potentially the one you're most familiar with. Many people prefer to outline in this structure because it is very linear, organized, and clear. After constructing a thorough outline in this format, virtually all a writer needs to do is fill in the gaps with prose. If you think linearly, need more structure when organizing your ideas, or prefer to have the skeleton of your paper completed before you begin writing, the classic outline might be the outline for you.

A piece of paper with text is an example of a classic outline. The text and formatting is as follows: "I. Introduction: The Classic Outline [line break, indent] A. Thesis: This is what a classic outline looks like [line break] II. You have your main points [line break, indent] A. And your supporting claims [line break, double indent] 1. And your evidence [line break] III. Because topic sentences are so useful, you might even put a topic sentence conveying your main point. [line break, indent] A. Some more supporting claims [line break, double indent] 1. And more evidence [line break] IV. WOW - another great point [line break, indent] A. More claims and evidence [line break, indent] V. Such a strong point A. Solid, convincing claims and evidence VI. Conclusion: Isn’t the classic outline so linear, organized, and clear?"

Subsubsection The Bubble Map

The bubble map is a great option for writers who prefer a less-structured organization or a more organic relationship between ideas. Bubble maps also enable you to conceptualize your claims in a dynamic way, which can be beneficial for papers or topics that have several claims that can be connected to each other differently.

This diagram shows an example bubble map. In the center, circled with a bold black line, is the text "Thesis: I don’t like to think linearly, so I’m going to make a bubble map." Around this central bubble are other bubbles connected to it with arrows, with text like "A great claim" and "My greatest claim?" Some of these bubbles are also connected to each other with arrows. Finally, bubbles with jagged borders are attached to the claim bubbles with text like "Evidence for that great claim" and "Need more evidence!"

Subsubsection The Flowchart

Flowcharts work well for people who like (or papers that require) the organization and structure of a classic outline but need the organic, concept-based connections of a bubble map. Flowcharts show both linear and more circular connections between points. You can begin with your thesis at the top of the chart, or you may opt to do a mini-flowchart for each paragraph with topic sentences at the top. Your argument progresses with each descending bubble on the chart, but you still have the flexibility to show connections between claims and pieces of evidence in concert with the linear flow of your argument.

This diagram shows an example flowchart. A series of gray bubbles filled with text progress down the page, with red arrows leading from top to bottom but also connecting bubbles that are next to each other. The top bubble reads "Thesis: A flow chart is a great way to achieve the organization of a classic outline while maintaining the flexibility of a bubble map." A series of bubbles have text like "A great claim and evidence" and "WOW- a claim!" and the final bubble reads "Conclusion."