Once you have determined your
topic, put together a working outline. This plan
can range from a brief sketch of main points to
a detailed point-by-point outline complete with
paragraphs. The idea is to provide yourself with
a rough map of where the essay will go, making
a diagram of your thoughts to sharpen and define
your purpose. At this point, you can also give
your essay a working title. The outline shows
where to begin and breaks the assignment into
The beginning is the introduction containing your
thesis statement; the end is the conclusion; and
the middle or body of the essay contains the argument,
supported by evidence or example and designed
to prove your thesis.
The essay should progress towards the conclusion.
At this stage, all you are preparing is the outline,
which will take you from one end of the essay
to the other, like a road map. It should be constructed
to keep you from losing your sense of direction
as you research and write the essay. A good outline
will ensure that everything you write in the essay
supports your thesis, preventing you from wandering
off into the tempting byways of irrelevance.
Construct your outline by listing all the important
points you want to cover in your essay. You should
provide one main point for each paragraph. Start
with the introduction, under which you will write
out your thesis statement and work through logically,
point by point, until you reach the conclusion.
Categorize your points according to their importance,
keeping in mind the method of organization you
intend to use.
Group related ideas together under general headings
and arrange them so they flow logically. It may
be useful to number each point, giving more weight
to major points and less to minor ones (e.g. A
1 2 3 B 1 2 3); alternatively, you can simply
set the points off further from the margin of
the paper as they decrease in importance:
Useful Quotation .... and so on
Some essays read as if each point had been written
on an index card, then the pile thrown down a
flight of stairs to determine the order. Make
clear why one point follows another: each point
in your outline should connect with the next;
each main category should be linked to your thesis;
and each sub-category should be linked to the
main category. Focus your outline by discarding
anything not useful or pertinent to your thesis.
One of the most helpful things about a full outline
is that it will quickly make clear to you where
the gaps lie. If you don't yet have enough support
in one area, you will know that you have more
reading or thinking to do. Remember that sometimes
your reading will unearth new facts or idea -
and you will modify your essay to reflect them.