4.5. Writing an Outline

For this final section you are expected to be able to draw on lessons from this module – audience participation and shared meaning – but also make connections to ideas, discussions, knowledge, from the previous three modules (critical thinking, diversity of media and sources, reading/interpreting images).

For this you are asked to produce an outline for a story on an issue important to you. You can work alone or in a group.

What is an outline: An outline is a formal system used to develop a framework for thinking about what should be the organization and eventual contents of your paper. An outline helps you predict the overall structure and flow of a paper.

You can refer to this site for guidance (cited below): http://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide/outline

Writing an outline:

  1. Beginning

There are two general approaches you can take when writing an outline for your paper:

The topic outline consists of short phrases. This approach is useful when you are dealing with a number of different issues that could be arranged in a variety of different ways in your paper. Due to short phrases having more content than using simple sentences, they create better content from which to build your paper.

The sentence outline is done in full sentences. This approach is useful when your paper focuses on complex issues in detail. The sentence outline is also useful because sentences themselves have many of the details in them needed to build a paper and it allows you to include those details in the sentences instead of having to create an outline of short phrases that goes on page after page.

  1. Steps to Making the Outline

A strong outline details each topic and subtopic in your paper, organizing these points so that they build your argument toward an evidence-based conclusion. Writing an outline will also help you focus on the task at hand and avoid unnecessary tangents, logical fallacies, and underdeveloped paragraphs.

  1. Identify the research problem. The research problem is the focal point from which the rest of the outline flows. Try to sum up the point of your paper in one sentence or phrase. It also can be key to deciding what the title of your paper should be.
  2. Identify the main categories. What main points will you analyze? The introduction describes all of your main points; the rest of your paper can be spent developing those points.
  3. Create the first category. What is the first point you want to cover? If the paper centers around a complicated term, a definition can be a good place to start. For a paper about a particular theory, giving the general background on the theory can be a good place to begin.

Create subcategories. After you have followed these steps, create points under it that provide support for the main point. The number of categories that you use depends on the amount of information that you are trying to cover. There is no right or wrong number to use.

  1.   Things to Consider When Writing an Outline
  1. There is no rule dictating which approach is best. Choose either a topic outline or a sentence outline based on which one you believe will work best for you. However, once you begin developing an outline, it’s helpful to stick to only one approach.
  2. Both topic and sentence outlines use Roman and Arabic numerals along with capital and small letters of the alphabet arranged in a consistent and rigid sequence. A rigid format should be used especially if you are required to hand in your outline.
  3. Although the format of an outline is rigid, it shouldn’t make you inflexible about how to write your paper. Often when you start investigating a research problem [i.e., reviewing the research literature], especially if you are unfamiliar with the topic, you should anticipate the likelihood your analysis could go in different directions. If your paper changes focus, or you need to add new sections, then feel free to reorganize the outline.

If appropriate, organize the main points of your outline in chronological order. In papers where you need to trace the history or chronology of events or issues, it is important to arrange your outline in the same manner, knowing that it’s easier to re-arrange things now than when you’ve almost finished your paper.

The following questions will help you identify the topic and make a plan for writing the outline.

Answer the following questions:

  • What is an issue important to you?
  • Why is it important?
  • What would you like to say?
  • Who would be your audience?
  • Who would you interview? Why?
  • What sources would you use? Why?
  • How would you make sure that different voices and perspectives are heard?
  • What images would you use? Why?
  • What media format would best fit with your story? Why?
  • What kind of audience do you have in mind when writing the story? How would you like them to participate?



You can refer to the following wiki in order to get more information and additional instruction.


Below is an examples you can follow


  1. Choose a topic
  1. Decide on your main goal: persuasion, information or reflection. If you are writing a persuasive, analytic paper, write a thesis statement.
  1. Gather supporting materials
  1. Choose type of outline (one type is provided below)


Outline for a Five-Paragraph Essay


Title: ____________________



Introductory statement

Thesis statement: ____________________



First Supporting Idea (Topic Sentence): ____________________





Second Supporting Idea (Topic Sentence): ____________________





Third Supporting Idea (Topic Sentence): ____________________






Closing statement

Restate thesis: ____________________

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