English 101 and 102

Paragraph Outline: Non-Persuasive Essay

Note: These instructions apply to non-persuasive essays only. For other essays, see the instructions for persuasive essays. You can also return to the Paragraph Outline overview.

  1. Make a list of 2 or 3 key themes in the essay, and pick one to focus on.
  2. Go back over the essay and make a list of the essay’s main sections. Where are there breaks or pauses where the essay switches focus, topic, perspective, tone, or some other key feature?
  3. Write a brief phrase to explain how each section reveals or expresses something different about the theme from what the other sections reveal or express.

    Tip: Use content-independent terms—words that describe the essay, not the topic. These include verbs such as introduce, develop, expand, explore, explain, illustrate; and nouns such as theme, example, image, perspective. Notice that none of these refers to the topic of the essay. For example:

    • This section introduces the theme with two key images.
    • This section develops the theme from several different perspectives.

    The goal here is to see how the structure of the essay conveys meaning, by going through stages that each contribute something unique. You can also think of this as like a piece of music that develops a theme in different ways. Stepping away from the content to focus on the essay itself makes it easier to see how these parts work together.

    A finished analysis will combine content-independent terms with content-specific terms (words that refer to the topic of the essay). This analysis helps make it possible to do that.

  4. Go back over the article, this time focusing on each paragraph. Write a word, phrase or short sentence identifying the main idea of each paragraph in your own words. (If it helps, underline the topic sentence to find the main idea.) Make a list of these words and phrases.

Write up your list in outline form. Group the paragraph summaries under the main points. Each main point should have a number of paragraphs under it.

You should now have a short, manageable list of main ideas that cover the entire article or chapter, as well as a brief summary of each paragraph that supports each main idea.