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In Academics on
April 14, 2017

Write an Outline to Carry Your Essay (and Save You Time)

Many writers, even those with experience, struggle to begin or develop writing assignments. Staring at an empty page can be daunting and frustrating, and maintaining focus as you write can be difficult as well. Enter the outline: it’s here to help you write, keep your composition on track to fulfill the assignment, and do it all more quickly than if you tried to write freestyle. In fact, with a good outline you’re halfway done with your assignment, because all that’s left to do is flesh out each concept into full sentences.

 Write An Outline To Carry Your Essay (And Save You Time) | Happy Contributor Adria shares her best tips for producing an essay outline that will help you produce the best paper possible. Click through for essay outline tips that will blow you and your professors away.

1. Format the Document

If you’re typing, go ahead and format your document. It’s easier to format your document at the start than to wait until you’re finished. That’s true because, when you’re done writing and editing, you’re done–you don’t want to spend time tidying up and formatting, and you’re likely to miss one of the requirements. Format the blank document right away. When you format the document you can easily go down the checklist of requirements for the required style and you also have a bit of a boost to get you started because you’ve put some information on the page already (even if it’s just your name, the course, or a paper title.) If your class does not require specifically formatted documents, I recommend you format them anyway, because it looks nice (your professor will appreciate it) and gives you more practice with formatting.

2. Create a Working Title

The purpose of the working title is to ground you and help you focus on your assignment–while at the same time pumping you up about your topic. Give it a name that appeals to you, like “The Scarlet ‘Dear John’ Letter” or a self-reflective title like “The Scarlet Letter Essay That Will Earn an A.” This title is all for you and to help you get started; you can change it later to a more serious title (…or not) or something that reflects the paper’s topic. At the least, give in to your anger and title it something like “The Civil War Was Bad,” or “Why I Hate The Scarlet Letter” and it will force you to think critically every time you work on it (why do you hate The Scarlet Letter?).

3. Create a Thesis

A lot of students struggle with creating a thesis. However uninspired you feel, don’t skip this step, or you’ll be working without direction, which could mean you’re wasting time. A thesis is a statement of purpose. It tells readers what to expect from your paper. In addition to stating a purpose, the thesis may explain why that matters. If you need help, start with something basic:

The Scarlet Letter is depressing.” Substitute a more sophisticated word to make it “The Scarlet Letter is tragic.” Ask yourself why you feel that way–is it related to the plot? Or maybe you just got a “feeling” while reading. Can you put your finger on it? Is it the imagery used, perhaps? Whatever the reason, it’s the conclusion of your thesis. Your thesis now reads like, “The Scarlet Letter is tragic because of dark imagery.” That will work, but rephrasing it and getting creative with your word choice will make it stronger: “Dark imagery in The Scarlet Letter achieves the novel’s tragic nature.” 

For another class, like history, you might write about something like the Civil War and have a starting thesis that, “The Civil War was bad.” You might feel silly writing something so obvious–but use the statement to consider why and you’ll get a better thesis: “The Civil War was bad because it turned brother against brother,” perhaps refined to “The greatest evil of the Civil War was that it turned brother against brother.”

4. Write Your Thoughts and Reflections 

Here is where you create a word, phrases and ideas dump. Write (or type) everything you can think of about the topic, especially in relation to your thesis. If you hit a roadblock and need help writing concepts, just imagine you’re telling your friends about the assignment–how would you describe it to them?

I’ve read it twice, there are Puritans in it, their attire is stifling/stuffy, they’re religious/pious, it’s set in young America, small town, everyone knows everyone but they don’t know Hester or who her baby daddy is, there’s a meteor, it’s seen as a sign, the people are superstitious/ignorant, light over dark world/society, they’re afraid of the forest, devil, sin, forbidden, restrictions, punishment, self-flagellation, shame & public humiliation, patriarchal society’s desire to control, Chillingworth has no life besides tormenting Hester and Dimmesdale, Hester’s disobedience and obedience…

The Civil War assignment word dump might look like this:

North vs. South, brother fighting brother, fratricide, a nation divided, a nation sort-of-divided because the South was actually a Confederacy and not unified, the north was controlling, industrialization vs. agriculture, “southern way of life,” slavery and plantations, man enslaving fellow man, emancipation, Abraham Lincoln, assassination, propaganda, weapons, progress, struggle, populations, loss of life, loss of humanity…

I usually do the word dump as a bullet list so I can arrange it more easily for the next part.

5. Look for Trends or Associations

It seems pretty easy to make associations from these lists because there are plenty of dichotomies. Dichotomies are the easiest way to find trends–male/female, good/bad, north/south, war/peace, light/dark, alive/dead, etc. A trend could be about colors or numbers, or any shared trait.

In the first I find themes of evil, superstition, knowledge, control, shame…

In the second I find themes of brotherhood, loss and gain, control, violence…

6. Group and Arrange Accordingly

Here’s where the outline form emerges. Make your thesis your first point. Then take your trends or themes and make each a point. Make your last point the thesis as well, because it will be a summary in which you again assert your claim and conclude how you supported it. You’ll reword the opening thesis later so it doesn’t read dully as copy & paste.

  1. Thesis: The greatest evil of the Civil War was that it turned brother against brother
  2. Brotherhood
  3. Loss and Gain
  4. Control
  5. Violence
  6. Thesis: The greatest evil of the Civil War was that it turned brother against brother

Next, begin to group the other ideas after each point. If you find a concept that could fit in more than one spot, either break it into two more specific ideas or consider it valuable as a link to help you transition from one supporting idea to the next.

  1. Thesis: The greatest evil of the Civil War was that it turned brother against brother
  2. Brotherhood
    1. North vs. South
    2. man enslaving fellow man
  3. Loss and Gain
    1. Loss
      1. a nation divided
      2. a nation sort-of-divided because the South was actually a Confederacy and not unified
      3. Abraham Lincoln
      4. “southern way of life”
      5. loss of life
      6. loss of humanity
    2. Gain
      1. emancipation
      2. progress
  4. Control
    1. the north was controlling
    2. emancipation (loss of control of slave owners)
    3. propaganda
  5. Violence
    1. assassination
    2. brother fighting brother
    3. fratricide
    4. weapons
  6. Thesis: The greatest evil of the Civil War was that it turned brother against brother

I had a few left over that I discarded. Additionally, some that I grouped together might be redundant–that asks you either to pick the stronger of the two or clarify each. For instance, “brother fighting brother” is similar to “fratricide,” meaning to kill one’s brother. Because they’re grouped under “violence,” fratricide is the stronger of the two–however, emphasizing the process of fighting or struggling might be more useful in your paper than the finality of killing.

The section for “Loss and Gain” had so many under it that I made two subsections. I fit “emancipation” under both “Loss and Gain” and “Control,” adding clarification of how it fit with control. 

7. Create a Mini-Thesis for Each Grouping

Because each paragraph acts as its own point, it’s sort of a micro-essay that makes a claim and is supported by evidence from your source. Consider the information grouped behind your main points–how do they support, or what argument do you see them making? Point 3’s subsections have theses, too, but these are obviously the two halves of 3’s thesis.

  1. Thesis: The greatest evil of the Civil War was that it turned brother against brother
  2. Brotherhood was tested, but it had already been strained by slavery
    1. North vs. South
    2. man enslaving fellow man
  3. Losses were sustained, such as loss of brotherhood and humanity, life–including, ultimately, our president–and a way of life, but the gains of emancipation and progress restored humanity.
    1. Losses were sustained, such as loss of brotherhood and humanity, life–including, ultimately, our president–and a way of life.
      1. a nation divided
      2. a nation sort-of-divided because the South was actually a Confederacy and not unified
      3. Abraham Lincoln
      4. “southern way of life”
      5. loss of life
      6. loss of humanity
    2. The gains of emancipation and progress restored humanity
      1. emancipation
      2. progress
  4. The war was fought because of and for control.
    1. the north was controlling
    2. emancipation (loss of control of slave owners)
    3. propaganda
  5. The war caused our nation to resort to terrible violence.
    1. assassination
    2. brother fighting brother
    3. fratricide
    4. weapons
  6. Thesis: The greatest evil of the Civil War was that it turned brother against brother

These might not be the best theses–but it’s a great start, something to build on and work from, at the least!

8. Finalize Your Thesis Based on Supporting Information & Rework the Outline

Now that you have your supporting ideas, you get a better sense of what you’re trying to argue. Time to rework your thesis: The greatest evil of the Civil War was that it turned brother against brother…” Ask yourself how or why and look at your points.

The greatest evil of the Civil War was that it turned brother against brother, sustaining severe losses and resulting in terrible violence in the fight for control and progress.

You’ll noticed the supporting points occur out of order, the second main point doesn’t feature in this statement and point 3’s two subsections were split up. I would now rework the outline to follow this new flow… and the second main point that wasn’t used can be featured in either the introduction or conclusion to support the paper as a whole, or reworked to support another point–whatever seems best to you as you work on the paper.

  1. Thesis: The greatest evil of the Civil War was that it turned brother against brother, sustaining severe losses and resulting in terrible violence in the fight for control and progress.
  2. Losses were sustained, such as loss of brotherhood and humanity, life–including, ultimately, our president–and a way of life.
    1. a nation divided
    2. a nation sort-of-divided because the South was actually a Confederacy and not unified
    3. Abraham Lincoln
    4. “southern way of life”
    5. loss of life
    6. loss of humanity
  3. The war caused our nation to resort to terrible violence.
    1. assassination
    2. brother fighting brother
    3. fratricide
    4. weapons
  4. The war was fought because of and for control.
    1. the north was controlling
    2. emancipation (loss of control of slave owners)
    3. propaganda
  5. The gains of emancipation and progress restored humanity
    1. emancipation
    2. progress
  6. Thesis: The greatest evil of the Civil War was that it turned brother against brother
    1. Brotherhood was tested, but it had already been strained by slavery
      1. North vs. South
      2. man enslaving fellow man

9. Plug in

You can use the outline to refer to when you write your paper, but a better way is to begin writing and connecting sentences on top of the outline framework. Start removing the framework and plug in each of your thoughts in full sentences, flowing from each subpoint to subpoint. Supporting points generally make a paragraph, or perhaps more if you have a longer assignment or a large subpoint. Make sure you transition well between each point.

Keep writing even if you have difficulty–the framework is there for you, so just work with what you provided yourself. Don’t be afraid to graft in information you didn’t include in your outline–your paper grows organically based on the frame you create for it.

10. Finish

After writing, edit as needed. Make your sentences stronger or give paragraphs better flow.  Finalize your title, give your assignment a good introduction and write a strong conclusion that will leave readers with no doubt of your assignment’s intention. Remember: work on assignments in advance of their due dates and you will have more time to edit and problem solve, or have someone else help you edit your assignment to make the final version the best it can be.

Click the bio to check out more from Adria!

In Academics on
July 12, 2016

10 Mistakes College Students Make When It Comes To Writing Papers Part 1

Today’s blog post is a part of a two-part series and is all about writing papers in college. I have been grading a lot of papers lately, and this has given me some valuable insight into things that college students do while writing papers (as well as making me think about all the things that I do while writing my papers.) Being a graduate assistant has really opened my eyes as a writer and made me think about what I could be doing to write better papers. Today on the blog I am going to be sharing five of the ten mistakes that college students make when it comes to writing papers in college.

READ  10 Mistakes College Students Make When It Comes To Writing Papers Part 2

Keep Reading, Darling

In Academics on
February 6, 2014

5 Tips to Writing Great Papers

Today I am giving you a how to on writing great papers! Writing is one of my strong points when it comes to college—which is great because I am not great at:

  1. Labs
  2. Feigning Interest
  3. Waking up happy
  4. Not procrastinating
  5. Being alert

Etc…I could go on a while.

 5 Tips For Writing Great Papers | Writing papers can be really daunting for any college student. Click through for five tips any college student can use to create great papers that will wow your professors and help them love your paper!

*Picture by Adobe Stock contributor arekmalang

You can think of paper writing as building the layers of a human being. You can have a fully fleshed and working human being—you can have just the bare bones, you can have the bones with some muscle and fat on top. You are fleshing out your paper so that you aren’t turning in just the bare bones. In paper writing bare bones aren’t acceptable.

Read the Directions

The first way to make sure you are writing an excellent paper—is to read the instructions. I know this seems like a simple task, but you’d be surprised how many mistakes could be solved by just reading and understanding the directions. Make sure you know what your teacher expects of you, and if you are still on the fence about it—ask!

Over my years as a student I have seen so many people get confused by the directions and what they are supposed to do. There is confusion when it comes to font, word length, citation style, and a whole lot more. It’s better to be safe than sorry–read the directions as soon as you can so you can ask questions as soon as you can!

Make an Outline

What do you want this paper to do? What do you want it to look like? This is your bare bones project. This is what you start to flesh out later. Your outline may change from time to time, but it’s important to start somewhere. The best place to start is by stating what you want each section of your paper to look like.

I don’t always outline my papers, sometimes the layout just comes to me. When I am feeling at a loss for what I want to do I definitely take the time to outline my papers so that I get the best papers. Once you have a good and informative outline in place it becomes a million times easier to just fill it in and really work on your paper. Having an outline also makes it easier to jump around in your paper. Not sure quite yet how you plan to write about paragraph 1 and 2, skip to paragraph 3! Having a good outline is pretty awesome!

Start

The best thing you can do after you make your outline is to start on the paper. Write each piece bit by bit, and just write until you finish the paper. This won’t be your final draft—don’t worry. One of the most important things to remember in my opinion when writing a paper or doing any class assignment is that the hardest part is starting. Over my years of being a student I have realized that again and again. Starting your paper will be the best thing that you can do for it.

Add Some Flesh to That Muscle

Right now you have muscle and fat. Now it’s time to add some flesh to that muscle! Go through your paper and elaborate, re-word, and make sure that your paper flows correctly from thought to thought. It’s important that you do this to make sure you are being a thorough as possible.

Trim out that fatty content too. You probably used a contraction or five throughout your paper. You may have stated something twice or misspelled a word. Do a spelling and grammar check and also go throughout the paper with your own two eyes.

One tip that I have been loving lately if you have a Macbook like I do, in Pages there is a setting called speaking. I tell you exactly how to access the feature in the image below, but it is my absolute favorite feature for figuring out what isn’t quite right when I have a big paper that I am writing for class. I will let the computer speak to me, it has a pretty natural voice for a computer. When it comes across a word that it has a hard time saying or a sentence that doesn’t sound quite right I will go in and fix that word or sentence. I am sure that other platforms also have this feature, but I know for sure that Pages does.

Get a Second Opinion

Once you have looked your paper over with care give the instructions and your draft to someone to look over. Think about the criticism that they gave your paper and see how you can change your paper for the better. You may not use every single suggestion—and that’s okay!

A lot of universities have great writing centers that are there to help you at literally any stage of the writing process. They can really sit down with you and help you make sure that your paper doesn’t have any faults or isn’t missing any crazy amounts of flesh or muscle. Just make sure that you know exactly what you want them to look for and that you are prepared for the appointment you make with them. Also be sure to make an appointment early. You want to make sure you actually have time to go over the paper and use their suggestions. There is no point in going to the writing center if you don’t have time to use the changes they suggest.

Triple Check for Accuracy

Now it’s time to look through your directions one last time and make sure that your paper answers every questions, cites every reference, and does everything that the teacher wants it to do. The best thing about papers is they are highly subjective but you can usually still have a checklist of facts that make your paper a good or bad paper. Just by going through your paper one more time I know that you will have a great paper that your teacher will adore!

I hope these tips were helpful for you all. What are your best paper writing tips?

Check out my post How To Write A Kick Ass Introductory Paragraph to learn how to make a great first paragraph.