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Outlining and Essay Structure

Outlining and Essay Structure

Author: Martina Shabram

In this lesson, students will learn about the outlining process, as well as the various components of essay structure.

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Video Transcription

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Hello, students. My name is Dr. Martina Shabram. And I will be your instructor for today's lesson. I'm genuinely excited to teach you these concepts. So let's get started.

What are we going to learn today? Well, this lesson is about outlining and building essay structure. We'll learn how to identify the components of an essay and put them together in an outline to prepare us to write a successful essay. So

Let's start with the outline. An outline is like a paper's blueprint. And generating that outline might be one of the steps we take during the prewriting stage. An outline will likely have an introduction, thesis statement, brief summaries of each body paragraph, and a conclusion.

How will that look? Well, here's an outline for us to review. What do you see here? We start with the introduction, which brings our reader into this topic and tells us what the main debate is.

Then, we have a statement of the thesis, which is a clear explanation of the main point of this essay. Then we have three body paragraphs, each of which is going to discuss a different idea that supports the overall main point.

And finally, we have a conclusion, which is the last thing in a piece of writing, the last paragraph or paragraphs of an essay. And that conclusion goes beyond merely summarizing what the main point has already said.

So with an outline like this, you just have to fill in the details and you'll be able to build this idea into a successful essay. Now it might seem like writing this outline is a waste of time since you're going to have to fill it in with greater detail when you actually write the essay. But in fact, an outline will save you time and make your writing more successful.

Creating organization out of all of the mess of your thoughts will help you write a more organized essay when you actually start the writing. And if you plot that organization out in brief, you might catch a gap in your argument or a spot where your ideas don't entirely make sense yet so that you can fill those in before you write.

And just as importantly, you might be able to see a piece of information that isn't directly related to the thesis, thus keeping the overall focus of your essay narrow and avoiding wasted time writing a paragraph that will just need to be cut out later. And because an outline is put together in this logical progression from intro through body paragraphs to conclusion, it will set the stage for you to keep up that logical flow of ideas.

Let's explore each of these elements of the outline a little more thoroughly. A thesis statement is a single sentence that expresses the controlling idea for a piece of writing. That controlling idea is the main idea of the paper, the goal that will organize the structure and content of the piece.

So how does a thesis statement fit into the essay? Well, it's usually in the first two paragraphs, introducing the main idea to the readers right up front. And in shorter pieces, it's almost always in the very first paragraph. And regardless of how long the paper is, a thesis is just one narrow idea which sets it apart from the broader topic, which can itself encompass many possible thesis statements.

Now as you write the paper, it's very possible that the thesis statement will change to reflect the statements and support you're making in the essay. Now this is a wonderful point of revision to discover as you're writing and realize that perhaps you're going in a slightly different direction than the thesis indicated.

But the thesis can also help rein you in and maintain focus in your writings. So it's important to have a solid working thesis before you begin writing, even if you acknowledge that it might change by the end. That way, you can focus your whole writing process from start to finish around the goal indicated in your thesis.

So once you have your thesis statement and are ready to come up with supporting paragraphs, you are ready to fill in the body of the essay. Body paragraphs are where you give the thesis statement the support it needs through examples, illustrations, evidence, explanations, and descriptions.

This kind of support will come in separate paragraphs between the introduction and the conclusion. Thus, as you're writing your outline and briefly summarizing the supporting ideas, think about how you will develop those points in the body paragraphs.

And just what are body paragraphs made up of? Well, each paragraph should have a topic sentence, which is a sentence that expresses the main idea of a paragraph and which comes at the beginning of the paragraph. This will limit and focus the paragraph just like a thesis statement limits and focuses the whole paper.

Then, you'll have supporting statements, which can include evidence, reasoning, and rhetorical appeals, in order to prove to your reader that the main point of the paragraph is valid. You'll want to carefully choose the support and the way you express it in order to match the audience you intend and the main purpose or goal of the text.

In this way, supporting statements provide support for the main idea of the paragraph, just as each body paragraph provides support for the overall thesis. So writing a paragraph mirrors writing the whole paper. And if you can do one, you can do the other.

Now between each paragraph, just as between each sentence, you want to make use of transitions to direct and clarify. Transitions are words, word combinations, and even sentences that highlight connections between ideas. So these are great tools for helping your reader understand what you're saying and see how the different parts of your essay all relate to the same whole idea.

By using transitions, you can control how your writing flows from one idea to the next, greatly influencing your readers. Here is an example. Pause for a moment to read these two short paragraphs. And press play when you're ready to discuss.

So how do they relate to one another? Without a clear transition, we readers are left to decide for ourselves what we think the connection is. But if I add in this, ah, now our readers know exactly the relationship between the two paragraphs.

Though many readers would have figured out that these two paragraphs contrast, adding in that transition prevents any potential confusion for the reader and assures the author that her readers will follow along with the overall intent of the paragraph and the direction that that paragraph is taking the argument in. Let's look at a sample to see how the structure will come together. Take a moment to read this short essay and press play when you're ready.

OK, let's walk through it. Here is our introduction. And you'll see there at the end is the thesis statement. So now notice that the main point of each paragraph, the topic sentence, even, supports that thesis statement, precisely. And in those body paragraphs, see how they each develop support for one element of the thesis?

Look here, this one specifically designed to point the reader towards the potential harm of these policies. And notice here that there are transitions which help us prepare for the paragraph to come. I'd say that overall, this is a pretty successful brief essay.

So what did we learn today? This lesson covered essay structure, showing how to move from the outline to the essay and using structure to organize the introduction, thesis statements, body paragraphs, and conclusion into a clear essay.

Well, students, I hope you had as much fun as I did. Thank you.

Notes on "Outlining and Essay Structure"

(00:00 – 00:09) Introduction

(00:10 – 00:22) What are we going to learn today?

(00:23 – 01:31) Outlines

(01:32 – 02:35) Outlines as Organization

(02:36 – 03:55) Thesis Statements

(03:56 – 05:18) Body Paragraphs

(05:19 – 06:32) Transitions

(06:33 – 07:19) Outline to Essay

(07:20 –07:39) Recap and Goodbye

Terms to Know
  • Conclusion

    The last thing in a piece of writing; the last paragraph or paragraphs of an essay.

  • Thesis Statement

    A single sentence that expresses the controlling idea for a piece of writing.

  • Topic Sentence

    A sentence that expresses the main idea of a paragraph.

  • Transition

    Words, word combinations, and even sentences that highlight connections between ideas.