24 Create an Outline

Before you begin writing, you will want to create an outline.  An outline helps you to organize your ideas into a clearly presented argument or report.

Step 1:  Create a thesis statement

If you are writing an essay or research paper, you will begin by writing a draft thesis statement.  A thesis statement is a concise presentation of the main argument you will develop in your paper.  Write the thesis statement at the top of your paper.  You can revise this later if needed.

The rest of your outline will include the main point and sub-points you will develop in each paragraph.

Step 2: Identify the main ideas that relate to your thesis statement

Based on the reading and research you have already done, list the main points that you plan to discuss in your essay.  Consider carefully the most logical order, and how each point supports your thesis. These main ideas will become the topic sentences for each body paragraph.

Step 3: Identify the supporting points and evidence for each major idea

Each main point will be supported by supporting points and evidence that you have compiled from other sources. Each piece of information from another source must be cited, whether you have quoted directly, paraphrased, or summarized the information.

Step 4: Create your outline

Outlines are usually created using a structure that clearly indicates main ideas and supporting points.  In the example below, main ideas are numbered, while the supporting ideas are indented one level and labelled with letters.  Each level of supporting detail is indented further.

Sample Paper Outline: Thesis statement: Because globalization is an undeniable reality in today's world, a well-rounded Canadian education must include opportunities for students to study one or more languages. Bilingualism is the norm for most of the world's people.  Those who are not bilingual are easily left behind. Statistics on bilingualism in the world. Contrast between levels of bilingualism in Europe, Asia, and North America. Disadvantages created by low levels of bilingualism in Canada. Strong language education is a global norm, and Canada's weakness in this area should be remedied. Information on language education in schools in select European, Asian, and North American countries. Percentage of students in Europe, China, and India that become bilingual through their education. Low levels of second language study in Canadian schools. Ways in which norms and expectations in language teaching contribute to successful bilingualism. Strong teaching methods lead to success in global contexts. Because Canadian teachers and students do not expect to become bilingual, low expectations lead to the continued use of outdated teaching methods. Bilingualism is necessary for participation in a global economy. Percentage of economic trade that is dependent on trade between one or more countries. Role of bilingualism in multinational companies. Job opportunities provided by bilingualism. Why relying on English as a trade language is not sufficient for success in international business. The lack of second language education in Canadian secondary and post-secondary schools places Canadian students at a disadvantage in a global economy. Bilingualism creates social good, and therefore the education system should actively work to promote it. Bilingualism allows people to understand cultures besides their own. Problems related to a lack of understanding between people. Research on how bilingualism allows people to understand one another. Role of language study in creating empathy. Education systems must work towards the common good of a peaceful society. Schools should promote cultural understanding through language study. Schools that do not promote bilingualism fail to provide their students with important cross-cultural communication skills.
Image Credit: Graeme Robinson-Clogg

Try it!

Create an outline for a paper or report for one of your courses.

  1. Write a thesis statement that clearly presents the argument that you will make.
  2. Use a multi-level outline, similar to the one in the example above, to create an outline before you begin writing.

Extend Your Learning

Outlining can help you to clarify your ideas, demonstrate if you have adequate support for your paper and provide a way to complete it in manageable stages.

  • This essay outline template can help you as you begin to develop this skill; adapt it for your own purposes and reflect on aspects that are working for you.



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