Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson

Outline Meaning

An outline aids an author in the writing process when crafting an essay or formal paper. Outlines are created before rough drafts and serve as a way to organize the thoughts of the author. This ensures that the author will create a well-formatted essay that flows cohesively and covers all the main concepts that are salient to the paper.

Outlines are not a rigid process and are meant to be a guideline for writing the actual paper. This form of preparation helps the author visualize their essay and reorganize the information as needed. It may be an additional step, but it will lead to a more polished product. This lesson will cover an outline’s dynamic nature and highlight examples of an outline.

There are three types of outlines:

  • alphanumeric outlines
  • decimal outlines
  • full sentence outlines

Alphanumeric outlines are the most widely recognizable outlines. They utilize Roman numerals, capital letters, Arabic numerals, and lowercase letters along with indentations to separate concepts and subconcepts for the paper. Fragmented ideas are written in shorthand instead of full sentences. When it is time to write the essay, the author will translate the fragmented ideas into full sentences. These outlines are often less time-consuming than other outline types.

Full-sentence outlines are the same as alphanumeric outlines, except full sentences are used instead of fragmented sentences. This makes it easier when it is time to write the actual essay.

Decimal outlines are similar to alphanumeric outlines, except decimal points are used to note new ideas. Each subheading relates to the main heading. For example, if the main heading is 1., the first line of the subheading would be 1.1. This makes it easy to read for the author.

These are suggested formats, and the author can use whatever aids them in organizing their ideas.

Outlines provide the writer with a way to organize their thoughts before they write a rough draft.


Why Outline?

Creating an outline is an important step in writing a cohesive, effective paper. It produces a general road map for the paper that the author can follow when it is time to write the essay. It will also make the act of writing the essay easier, as the author will already have a clear idea of what they want to write and how they want to organize their ideas.

Outlines allow the author the ability to see the information laid out and group together before the paper is written. This ensures that no details are left out and that the paper makes sense. The author can rearrange any information that does not flow well. They can also omit any information that stands out and doesn’t compliment the rest of the essay.

How to Write an Outline

This section will detail how to write an outline. The following is a list of steps on how to write an outline:

  • Conduct necessary research, if applicable. An analysis is the writer’s interpretation of the importance of a particular detail found through research.
  • Establish a purpose and audience for the essay.
  • Write a tentative thesis statement or objective for the essay. This is what the entire paper will be about, including the main supporting arguments.
  • List the main points and create topic sentences for each. If you are writing a traditional 5-paragraph essay, each body paragraph should have a topic sentence that introduces the main point for that paragraph.
  • Add details and analysis for each main point.
  • Organize the points into introduction, body, and conclusion. The introduction should introduce the information, and the conclusion should summarize the information. No new information should be presented in the conclusion paragraph.

This is just a general idea of how to write an outline. This process may vary depending on the writer and the type of paper that needs to be crafted. This should serve as a loose guideline.

Full sentence outlines save the author time when they go to draft the essay.


Full Sentence Outline Example

The best way to understand how to write an outline is through an example. The following is an example of an outline for a traditional 5-paragraph essay:

Introduction paragraph: Introduce a Topic

  • Vaccines are a salient part of the health of children and adults.
  • Diseases such as mumps and rubella have been nearly eradicated with the use of vaccines in the United States.
  • The COVID-19 vaccine should be mandated in schools because it will provide a safe environment, promote herd immunity and many vaccines are already mandated.

Body paragraph 1: A Safe Environment

  • The COVID-19 vaccine protects the older adults they have contact with who are at risk for developing severe complications.
  • Children are in close contact with other kids, where it can spread easily.
  • Children may be asymptomatic and not know they are infectious.

Body paragraph 2: Promote Herd Immunity

  • Increasing the vaccination rate in children will increase herd immunity.
  • Herd immunity will reduce community spread overall.
  • Herd immunity will reduce the need for masks and social distancing.

Body paragraph 3: Other vaccines are required by law.

  • Some vaccines are already mandated by law for children to be in the school setting.
  • Vaccines for MMR, polio, and hepatitis A are required in certain states.
  • Mandating vaccines is an established policy for disease prevention.

Conclusion paragraph: Summary

  • Vaccines are safe and effective at keeping children in school.
  • Vaccines increase herd immunity.
  • Vaccines will help eradicate COVID-19 by keeping in-school transmission to a minimum.

This example highlights the format of a full-sentence outline.

Lesson Summary

Outlines are useful because they allow the writer to compile information and set a direction for the essay before creating the first draft. Outlines provide a more cohesive and focused method to write a paper. The analysis is the writer’s interpretation of the importance of a particular detail found through research. Thesis statements are important parts of an outline. This sentence summarizes the main ideas of the essay.

The three types of outlines are full-sentence outlines, alphanumeric outlines, and decimal outlines. While the full-sentence outline may take more time to write, it makes writing the first draft much easier. Alphanumeric outlines speak in generalities and are less time-consuming for writers. Decimal outlines clearly relate subconcepts to the main concepts. These outlines are just suggestions, and the writer should use whatever they think works best for them.

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