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3 Tutorials that teach Outlines and Drafting
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Outlines and Drafting

Outlines and Drafting

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Author: Gavin McCall
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This lesson demonstrates how to use your outline when drafting your essay.

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Welcome to English Composition, I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me. What are we going to learn today? Today we'll be learning about outlines and drafting, looking at ways to use an outline to move into the drafting step of the writing process with control and intent. We'll also talk about how outlines can prevent plagiarism.

Now, before we start talking about outlines, let's make it clear what we in composition mean when we say draft. This means an individual iteration of an essay or other piece of writing, as in one version, one way to say it. Not, by any means, the way to say it. One thing that experienced writers assume about their writing process is that multiple drafts are a fact of life, at least if they want to get anywhere close to meeting their potential they are.

Thus, these writers tend to think of prewriting and outlines, as well as how they transition into an early draft, as simply the beginning of a longer, and ultimately more productive process. Remember that as a writer, the writing process is under your control. All the things we talk about here are tips and tricks, ways that experienced writers have found to get the most out of their time, not things that you or any writer absolutely has to do. So make the writing process your process.

And one of the best ways to do that is to use prewriting techniques like outlines to help you write your first draft and later revisions. Think of the outline as a map telling you where to go next and you'll be all right. If you've got a map, it's harder to get lost. And it's less likely that you'll be hung up by some obstacle like writer's block. Still, though, it's important not to think of your outline as set in stone.

It's not a contract, but more like a mental guide. And like everything else in the writing process, you're in charge. So if you ever feel the need to add, to cut, or to rearrange something in your outline, do it. And remember that your outline, as well as later drafts of the essay itself, should always be driven by the working thesis, which itself can be changed throughout the writing process.

Now that we're all a little more clear about what an outline is and is not, let's look at how using one can help us proceed through the writing process, through drafting and revision. Let's say that I'm working on an essay about fake plants. This is a real life pet peeve of mine, born no doubt because I grew up on a farm that sold flowers and ornamental plants. But for the purpose of this hypothetical essay, let's say my argument is going to be that fake plants are worse than no plants, because all they do is remind us that the living room, the store, or the restaurant that we're in doesn't have any plants in it.

A bare bones outline of this essay might look something like this. Take a moment and pause the video to look it over. So what did you notice? Besides that it's necessarily brief and doesn't use complete sentences, it looks like a pretty thorough set of notes for myself, right? It's a map for where I want to go with the essay, including the three main points I want to make.

The thesis about how fake plants are worse than no plants, followed by some examples I hope will make the topic real for my readers, and then an exploration into the most common situations in which we encounter fake plants, and all the associations therein. I've also got a note in this section, asking whether or not to include a discussion about fake tree cellphone towers. Not all writers do this, but when I like an outline I like to include material like this, subjects or side arguments that I'm not completely sure are necessary for my argument, but that I don't want to forget.

Just in case, as I'm writing, I find a good way to include it, or it turns out I could use a little more material to work with. Remember, this is my outline, not something I absolutely have to follow. So it's fine to include options like this, in my opinion. Then I have my last plan section, in which I make a call to action for people to live a life of real gestures, to have plants or to not have plants, but either way to do it consciously.

Now, the chances are very good that as I actually begin to write my first draft, I'll find, for example, that I need to do much more work in the first section in order to convince my intended audience that fake plants are really that bad, and that they're worth writing and reading about. So one thing I might end up doing is borrowing some of the material I'd intended to use at the end in order to front load my argument about why this matters, the whole living a life of real gestures part, and how that is implicitly a much bigger argument, one that stretches far beyond the realm of plastic indoor plants.

And that would be no problem. Just because I wrote it one way my outline doesn't mean I'm stuck to do it later. After all, part of the reason you take a map on a journey is so that you'll have multiple options when it comes to getting to your destination.

Now, I'm sure plagiarism is a subject that we're all at least passingly familiar with. But just to be sure, in an academic context plagiarism means presenting someone else's ideas or writing as your own, whether intentionally or unintentionally. And both of these two types are cheating in an academic context, and are generally considered unethical, or sometimes illegal.

Of the two types, the first is deliberate plagiarism, which generally incurs some punitive reaction from a teacher or educational institution. The second, unintentional plagiarism, comes about when a careless writer fails to give credit to whoever first came up with the idea or phrase that's been taken. So why do I bring this up now? Because having an original outline, and an original working thesis, will help prevent both types of plagiarism.

If students, or any writers for that matter, have an outline and a working thesis, they will have already clearly expressed and organized their ideas in their own words, and will therefore be less likely to unintentionally take another's ideas or words as their own. And if they've done all this prewriting, there'll generally be less need and less incentive to be tempted to take another's ideas or words intentionally. After all, they'll have already done half the work, right?

What have we learned today? We learned about how outlines and drafting work together, and how to use an outline to move into the first and later drafts. And we talked about how doing this can help prevent both types of plagiarism. I'm Gavin McCall, thanks for joining me.

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Draft

    An individual iteration of an essay or other piece of writing.