Dr. Karen Palmer and Dr. Sandi Van Lieu

Now that you’ve narrowed down your topic, done your research, and created your thesis, it’s time to start writing, right? Instead of jumping right in…pause for a few moments before beginning to amass your information into a first draft. Return to your statement(s) of purpose. Have any of the elements (voice, audience, message, tone, attitude, reception) changed as a result of your research? If so, write up an intermediate statement of purpose, and use it as a guide as you draft and as the basis for a writer’s memo you may be asked to submit with your draft.

Once you think you have an ample supply of materials, read through your subtopic files and consider the order of the different pieces. Consider the points you want to make in relation to the information you have found and begin typing comments between your notes to assure you have a solid plan in place when you start to make your outline.

Create an outline that begins with your thesis (or message). Include the subtopics as key elements. Under each subtopic, list your supporting points you have researched as well as the ideas you plan to add.

Writing an Outline

Creating an outline might seem like an unnecessary step. However, outlines ensure that your argument is well-organized and stays on topic. In addition, a well-thought out outline can save hours of writing time. After all, it’s much easier to re-organize an outline than to re-write an entire essay!

An outline can be either informal or formal. An informal outline outlines the parts of a paper without a specific structure. An author might use bullet points, letters, numbers, or any combination of these things. On the other hand, a formal outline has a very specific structure. Main points are listed using Roman numerals (I, II, III, etc). Secondary points use capital letters (A, B, C, etc). The third level of points uses Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, etc), and the final level uses lowercase letters (a, b, c, etc).

Below is an example of both an informal and a formal outline side by side. In an actual essay outline, each item would include specific details about the essay instead of general headings. Instead of Point 1, for example, the outline would state the actual point.


Image created by Dr. Karen Palmer and licensed under CC BY NC SA.

When you are finished, evaluate your outline by asking questions such as the following:

  • Do I want to tweak my planned thesis based on the information I have found?
  • Do all of my planned subtopics still seem reasonable?
  • Did I find an unexpected subtopic that I want to add?
  • In what order do I want to present my subtopics?
  • Are my supporting points in the best possible order?
  • Do I have enough support for each of my main subtopics? Will the support I have convince readers of my points?
  • Do I have ample materials for the required length of the paper? If not, what angle do I want to enhance?
  • Have I gathered too much information for a paper of this length? And if so, what should I get rid of?
  • Did I include information in my notes that really doesn’t belong and needs to be eliminated? (If so, cut it out and place it in a discard file rather than deleting it. That way, it is still available if you change your mind once you start drafting.)
  • Are my planned quotations still good choices?

Sentence Outlines

You may be asked by your instructor to create a sentence outline, which takes a regular outline to another step. In this type of outline, each and every single line should be a complete sentence. Instead of using a short phrase or word, you should have full sentences.

Key points about a sentence outline:

  • An outline is a way of organizing key ideas
  • An outline helps to set up an essay or a research paper
  • An outline is a tool to help revise an essay or research paper.
  • An outline can be a study tool to help you summarize key ideas in reading
  • A formal outline shows, in logical order, what you will be writing about.
  • A formal outline helps you separate main ideas and supporting ideas
  • A formal outline gives you a foundation from which to build an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.
  • A formal outline often changes after you write your first draft. It will show you where you need to add more research or make other changes.
  • Each line of your outline should be a complete sentence.
  • The more detailed your outline, the easier it will be to write your essay.

Example Sentence Outline:

Southern Local-Color in “Désirée’s Baby” and “A Rose for Emily”

I. Intro for The Application of a Literary Critical Model to a Short Story

A. Local-color is a form of regionalism which exploits the speech, dress, mannerism, and habits of a specific region.

B. Southern local-color portrays life of the Old South.

  1. “Southern writers were nostalgic for a sense of place distinctly and exclusively Southern” (Lecture 5).
  2. “Southern Renaissance writers can also be said to transcend its specific regional settings and address universal themes of human suffering, isolation, prejudice, alienation, connection, and intimacy” (Lecture 5).

C. Kate Chopin wrote “Désirée’s Baby” and William Faulkner wrote “A Rose for Emily.”

  1. Both stories focus on the role of women in Southern culture and the relationship between men and women.
  2. The main female protagonist in each story is Désirée and Emily.

H. Thesis: Due to their old Southern culture, both Désirée and Emily experience gender inequality, their stories utilize Southern dialect and garments, and they are examples of what happens to women and other minorities when they are not given social freedom.

II. Désirée and Emily experience gender inequality due to their Southern culture.

A. “Désirée’s Baby” takes place in Louisiana before the American Civil War.

  1. The culture was created around the existence of slaves.
  2. Their plantations and economy relied on this racial caste system.
  3. The expectations of females limited their roles in this society.

B. Armand falls instantly in love with the young and beautiful Désirée when he sees her standing outside her wealthy plantation.

C. Désirée’s past is unknown, she was found as a baby and raised by the loving plantation owner.

  1. Armand purchases her fine clothes and gifts from Paris and soon the two are married, he now sees her as his property, he bought her with his wealth.

B. Armand is racist and often cruel to his slaves and treats them as property.

  1. When their baby is born showing African American genetic traits, Désirée is accused of being partially black and shunned by her husband.
  2. Désirée is so heartbroken, that she takes herself and her baby to the bayou to die.

C. After their deaths, Armand burns her fancy possessions and he finds a letter from his deceased mother who confesses that she carries the African American genetic traits.

  1. This confirms that Armand is the one who is partially black, not Désirée.

Exercise 1

Choose the best choice for each question:

1. Once you are finished taking notes, you should

  1. start writing immediately.
  2. read through your notes and put them in an order that will work.
  3. make sure, when you write, to use all the information you have found.

2. Your outline should begin with

  1. your thesis (or message).
  2. your best quotation.
  3. your most interesting subtopic.

3. If you have notes that are relevant, but do not fit within the planned subtopics

  1. delete those notes.
  2. you know that you did unneeded research.
  3. consider adding a subtopic.

4. Once you begin to make your outline, you should

  1. tweak your thesis based on information you have learned.
  2. eliminate all information that does not directly support your thesis.
  3. use only your original ideas.



Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Creating an Outline Copyright © 2023 by Dr. Karen Palmer and Dr. Sandi Van Lieu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book