How to Write an Outline

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An outline is the best tool you can create for yourself for writing a good essay. An outline is like a road map: it tell you where you are going and where you have been. It’s easy to tell an essay which has been written without an outline. It tends to be unfocused and full of either repetitive or irrelevant details. Following an outline as you write makes your essay organized and logical.

The first step to writing an outline is to state your thesis. Since the thesis is the idea you are trying to prove in your essay, every sentence should relate to the thesis. The thesis is the biggest idea; each paragraph after the introduction supports the thesis. Therefore the second step to writing an outline is to write the topic sentence for each paragraph that will support your thesis.

So, if your thesis is that To Kill A Mockingbird is a novel which is symbolic of America coming  to terms with its racist past, you’d write that as the first poing in your outline. Your body paragraphs would prove each of these points: it’s about growing up; it’s about racism; the point of view of racism changes during the novel.

  1. To Kill A Mockingbird is a novel which is symbolic of America coming to terms with its racist past.
    1. The narrator is a young girl who is growing up.
    2. The key plot element is racism of the society.
    3. The narrator’s point of view shifts during the course of the novel.

With this outline, you could easily write a 5 paragraph essay. In your introductory paragraph, you would write some general statements about racism in the past in America. You could use any number of observations, historical facts or general plot summaries from the novel to introduce the thesis. In the next paragraph you would introduce the narrator, Scout, establish her age and cite details from the novel which establish her naive point of view. The third paragraph would summarize the events leading to Tom Robinson’s charge of rape including how black people are generally treated in Maycomb. If you were writing a longer essay, there are many plot elements to discuss such that you could write several paragraphs, or even pages about the way racism is depicted in the novel.

For the final body paragraph, you would cite evidence from the later pages about how Scout comes to see the truth about how people treat black people. The derogatory statements said about Tom when he is killed on a desperate attempt to escape custody are one example of the town’s racist beliefs. That black people have ordinary lives and families is revealed in the chapter where Scout and Jem visit Calpurnia’s church. To show how this is revealed symbolically, you could show the parallel of how Scout discovers that Boo Radley is not the evil monster everyone had believed. As Scout’s point of view toward Boo changes, so does the understanding that black people are not different from white people. There is a lot of material here, as well, and this could be several paragraphs or pages.

Finally, following the outline, you could write a concluding paragraph that sums up the evidence presented and presents the conclusion.

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