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Paper Writing- Outlines

Paper Writing- Outlines

Author: Kristina Jacobs

To create an outline for a paper in order to organize ideas on a logical manner.

This packet shows you how to outline using a formal outlining style suitable for read-write learners, or an informal, concept mapping outlining style suitable for visual learners. Discusses common outlining terms including major point, sub point, outline and main idea.

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Why Outline?

Do I really have to write an outline to write a good paper? 




An outline is your rough "plan" of how you will write your paper. An outline helps you figure out where to start by organizing your thoughts and ideas. Outlining your paper before you start can save you time, both in researching your topic and in writing the actual paper.

If you don't make an outline:

  • your paper might become disorganized
  • there could be a lack of logical order in the presentation of ideas
  • you could have a hard time figuring out which references to use to support your ideas
  • you'll have to spend time re-reading and cutting and pasting to make the ideas flow more naturally
  • you could lose points on your assignment if the outline is required
  • it will take you longer to write the paper

Informal vs. Formal Outlines

There are informal and formal outlining methods. If you are a visual learner you might prefer the informal outlining method which is similiar to concept mapping or brainstorming. It is a visual form of making your ideas connect together.

A formal outline is best for read-write learners. A formal outline uses Roman numerals, main headings and sub-headings to define each area of your paper.

Source: Kristina Blasen

Informal Outlines- Making Connections between ideas (Best for visual learners)

Brainstorming Outline (Flexible)

1.       Start with a sheet of notebook paper and turn it horizontally.

           2.       In the center of the sheet write the name of your topic or the main idea of your paper in a few words. This is 
                    known as the major point (see vocabulary below) of your paper.


           3.       Place a circle, square or whatever shape you prefer around your main paper topic or idea.

Outline 1

4.       Think of three or four sub points that you plan to discuss in your paper related to your main topic.

5.       Place each sub point as a title in its own shape around your major point. You could place them all below
          your topic or spread out around your topic in any order that makes logical sense to you.

6.       Connect your major point with your sub points using a straight line between each.



7.       From each sub point decide on two or three important facts or arguments that you will include to support
          your ideas within your paper. Draw a new set of shapes, one for each idea, surrounding your sub points.

8.       Write the facts in a few words inside the shapes.

9.       Connect the shapes with a line to their respective sub point.


Outline 3

Source: Kristina Blasen

Formal Outlining - Known for Roman Numerals and ABC's (Best for Read-Write Learners)

Formal Outlining

1.       Using a sheet of notebook paper, start by writing your main idea, or major point, at the top of the page.

2.        Next, decide how many sections you will need for your paper and write the Roman numerals for each section along the left-hand margin of the page leaving at least five lines of space in between each one. The Roman numerals for the numbers 1 to 10 are: (I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, and X).

3.       Next to these Roman numerals, write the sub points for your major point. These will become the sections within your paper.

4.        In the empty lines beneath the Roman numerals, write the letters A, B, and C next to the left-hand margin.

5.       Next to the letters A, B and C, write facts and information from your research in a few words or a sentence that will support both your major point and each sub point within your paper.

Are we dangerously dependent on computers?

I.                    Ways we use computers

A.      Military

B.      Government

C.      @ School

D.      @ Home

II.                  Benefits of computers

A.      Scientific breakthroughs

B.      Faster service

C.      Better data control

D.      Information tracking functions

III.                Known problems with computers/technology

        A.   Vulnerable to attacks

                B.   Not perfect/human factor

        C.   Subject to constant technological changes

IV.                What would happen if computers stopped working?

       A.  Computer terrorism

               B.  Computer viruses

               C.  Historical computer scares

               D.  Y2K

Source: Kristina Blasen

Vocabulary-New Writing Terms- Outline, major point, sub point

Outline- An outline is a written plan for organizing a paper. Outlines can be formal or informal. Some outlines use roman numerals to order topics while others use shapes.

major point- The major point is the main idea or topic within a paper. Long research papers may have several large sections, each with its own major point and sub points.

sub point- A sub point is a supporting fact used to add credibility to your argument or ideas within the context of your paper.

Source: Kristina Blasen