An outline can be defined as a general idea or plan of the subject matter or material that is to be presented in any paper (academic, research or creative writing) or speech. The outline shows the significance of the various topics, the relationship between the topics and relative importance of each topic. An outline helps you in organizing the material. A strong outline has details of all the topics as well as the subtopics in the paper.
By writing an outline, one can comprehend the importance or relevance of the material and the connections between the materials, the connections that might have not been there when the paper was first written or thought of. An outline also helps one in understanding or identifying the information that is not really helpful or relevant to the paper or even is a duplication of something already covered. Therefore, these issues can be sorted out by removing the unwanted information.
One can also start writing a paper with the outline. Writing an outline before the actual paper helps
to keep you focused on the overall structure and progressing momentum. It also makes organizing the thoughts an easy process. Creating an outline may be as simple as jotting down some main ideas, but is immensely beneficial and adds incredible value to your academic writing.
Reasons for creating an outline
Why should one create an outline? What is the use of an outline? There are many answers to such questions. In general, an outline may be useful to show the logical order or hierarchical relationship of the information. An outline helps in keeping track of all the information, thus making the overall job of writing the academic paper easier. With respect to creative writing, an outline helps in organizing various plots and character traits. When it comes to an oral paper or a speech, an outline reminds the topics, so that nothing is missed or forgotten to discuss.
Some of the significant reason for writing an outline
is that it helps in the process of writing, organizing ideas, presenting the information in a logical way, shows the relationship between the ideas in the paper, defines boundaries and constructs an ordered summary or conclusion of the paper.
Creating an Outline
Before creating an outline, one should have a clear picture of the academic paper
. The purpose of the paper and the audience to which the paper will be presented should be determined well in advance. The next important aspect that is required for creating the outline is the thesis of the paper. The thesis plays an important role as it defines the central argument of the paper.
After determining the purpose, audience and thesis of the paper, brainstorm and list down the important topics that are to be covered in the paper. At this stage the outline is a working outline. A working outline is an informal list of all the topics and subtopics covered in the paper. The related ideas should be grouped together. The material should then be arranged in sub-sections and should follow an order. For example, one can either follow general to specific order or abstract to concrete order. A chronological order also has a good impact sometimes and at other times, a spatial arrangement might work best. In a general to specific order, one begins with a general idea later supported by specific examples. According to the ideas, the labels of the main headings and sub headings are created. The sub-sections should be divided on the basis of either a system of numbers or letters followed by period. Headings such as introduction and conclusion for parts of the paper should not be used. The outline has to be consistent.
The working outline can be reviewed and changed as and when there are new ideas or new material to be added to the paper. It is always a good practice to keep copies of the old outlines for reference. The final outline is the one that enhances the consistency of the paper.
Contents of an Outline
The outline of an academic paper in general has the following:
- Thesis statement
- Major & minor points and
The purpose of the introduction is to provide the readers with a context in order to prepare them for the paper's argument or discussion. Therefore the introduction should not be very elaborate and should begin with a discussion of the specific topic with limited context that is enough to prepare the readers for the purpose/thesis statement.
The thesis or the purpose statement generally comes at the end of the introduction. The introduction already has the readers prepared for this statement. The thesis statement should clearly state the purpose of the paper in a very concise way. The thesis statement should always be specific and should be a brief complete grammatically correct sentence
. The rest of the paper follows the thesis statement and supports it.
This section often includes either a review charting the current stage of knowledge on the topic or a historical overview. The main purpose of this section is to validate the paper with respect to the current research.
Major and Minor Points
Major points are the main topics that move the paper forward. Each major point should be in relevance to the main argument of the paper. Minor points here are the subtopics discussed within the major points. Minor points may help in describing the nuances in the major points, but have no individual significance.
The conclusion should reinstate the paper's argument and give way to larger discussion of the same. The conclusion focuses on projecting the thesis statement with respect to the current research, future implications and steps for future researchers.
Types of Outlines
There are two types of outlines.
- Topic Outline and
- Sentence Outline
The Topic Outline has all the headings listed as words or phrases. In a sentence outline, the headings of topics and subtopics are expressed in complete sentences.
When creating an outline one should be consistent and not mix up the types of outline, which simply implies that one should either write all headings in sentences or phrases, but should not use both.