This is a formal outline for your final research paper. It will present your thesis, the major points in support of that thesis, and the sub-points supporting each major point. It may have additional levels of sub-sub-points if you feel that is necessary.
The basic idea of a formal outline is that different types of letters or numbers (I, A, 1, a, i) represent different levels of the hierarchy of your paper, and sub-levels are indented below main levels. For example:
(If you’re using Microsoft Word, you might find yourself getting frustrated by its “helpful” approach to formatting lists. My advice is, don’t sweat the formatting too much. I’d prefer that you follow this or a similar format, but the main thing is that the relations among ideas should be clear. The reader should be able to see at a glance which are the main points, which are the secondary points, which are at the third level of importance, and so on. It should also be obvious which secondaery points belong under which main points. Usually this is accomplished by using different numbering for different levels, and indenting the less important levels. But if you can’t make that work, do whatever you have to so that the relationships are clear.)
In addition to the elements of a formal outline, please also:
There are two major types of outline:
A topic outline lists words or phrases. A sentence outline lists complete sentences.
A topic outline arranges your ideas hierarchically (showing which are main and which are sub-points), in the sequence you want, and shows what you will talk about. As the name implies, it identifies all the little mini-topics that your paper will comprise, and shows how they relate.
A sentence outline does all of this, plus it shows exactly what you will say about each mini-topic. Each sentence, instead of simply identifying a mini-topic, is like a mini-thesis statement about that mini-topic. It expresses the specific and complete idea that that section of the paper will cover as part of proving the overall thesis.
The method described below will produce a sentence outline.
Your sentence outline should, if done thoroughly and carefully, represent almost a first draft of your research paper. Once youve written it, the paper will practically write itself. Youll just be filling in the blanks, so to speakproviding specific examples and other support to flesh out and prove the ideas youve already sketched out. The purpose, in other words, of doing this work is not to make work for you, but to save you work in the long run by breaking the job down into smaller, manageable tasks.
Tip: Outlines can be very detailed or very general, but the more detail you have the farther youll get toward writing your paper. Heres an example. A paper of 12 pages (about 4,500 words) might have four major topics or points, represented by roman numerals (I - IV) in the outline. This would mean each point would represent about three pages of the final paper. These three pages will include background information, multiple sources, different pieces of evidence and explanation supporting that point, and often a brief description of alternative views and an explanation of why those views are not so convincing. Smaller points supporting each of the main points might then take up a single page, or 2 - 3 paragraphsagain with evidence, explanation, alternative views and so on. Finally, even smaller points under these might correspond to individual paragraphs in the final draft.
Once you have the main points and supporting points written down, its time to start organizing. First make sure which are main and which are supporting points. For example, you may find that what you thought was a main point is really part of proving another main point. Or, what you first listed under a main point may need its own section. This may change as you continue to work on the outline and draft the paper.
Now you can decide what order you want to present your ideas in. Again, label them with letters or numbers to indicate the sequence.
Tip: Dont just settle for one organization. Try out at least two different sequences. Youll be surprised at the connections that emerge, the possibilities that open up, when you rearrange your ideas. You may find that your thesis suddenly snaps into focus, or that points that seemed unrelated in fact belong together, or that what you thought was a main idea is actually a supporting idea for another point. Good writing is all about re-vision, which literally means seeing againseeing your work from a fresh perspective. You can do this at every stage of the writing process, and especially at the organization stage.
Finally, write up the outline in the order youve chosen. Remember to include a thesis statement at the start of the outline, and cite and list your sources.