Writing an Outline

What is an outline?

An outline is a way to organize your thoughts and help you write a paper. Outlines don’t have to be made any specific way, but this is the most basic and general way to outline a paper. It’s based on a 5-paragraph paper in MLA format. The outlines might change depending on how many points you want to make and on the type of paper it is (argumentative, persuasive, etc.). The Writing Center can help with that.

Should I make an outline?

Absolutely! If you’re someone who has trouble coming up with the “right” words to say in your paper, this is a great way to structure it so you know you at least have what you need for each part. You don’t have to worry about it sounding great in the outline. Once you start writing, you’ll find the words will come a little easier. Also, this is a wonderful way to start your paper ahead of time without fully committing to writing the whole thing. Write your outline one day and then start writing your paper the next. If you aren’t sure, try it out and see if it helps! 

I. Introduction

A. Hook 

  1. This is how you will capture your audience’s attention so they read more

B. General Info. about topic 

  1. A few bits of background information that you think might be helpful to the reader’s understanding – not in great detail 

C. Thesis 

  1. A thesis is brief (in one to two sentences) and says exactly what you will be talking about. It’s always your last one/two sentences and outlines your body paragraphs. 

II. Body

A. Main Idea #1

  1. Transition sentence 

a) This isn’t necessarily needed, but if you’re someone who has trouble making your paper flow, sometimes it’s helpful to just write down your beginning sentence to make sure you’re introducing the topic well (i.e. using things like “to begin”, “secondly”, “lastly”). 

2. Deep detail about main idea. What’s your point here?

3. Quote/paraphrase from source(s)

a) It’s a good idea to figure out which quotes you want to use to prove your point, especially if your teacher requires direct lines from the texts. Other professors may prefer that you paraphrase source material in your own words. 

B. Main Idea #2

  1. Transition sentence

2. Deep detail

3. Quote/paraphrase

C. Main Idea #3 

  1. Transition sentence 

2. Deep detail

a) It’s possible that you only have two main idea points to make. If that’s so, consider this the time to introduce any rebuttals people might make about your two main points. State why the rebuttal is wrong and you are right. This solidifies your point and shows you’ve done the research. 

3. Quote

III. Conclusion

A. This is where you sum up what you talked about. A good rule of thumb is to rewrite your thesis but in a bit more detail. This drives your point home and brings all the main thoughts together. Here is where you explicit state what you think overall. Some people also like to offer up solutions to whatever problem they presented in the paper. It’s also nice to think of this as your lasting impact on the reader since it’s what they’ll read last. 

More Approaching Writing
Paragraph Focus: Patterns
Guide to Citation Sites and Styles
Generating Ideas for Writing