Creating an Outline
Once a topic has been chosen, ideas have been generated through brainstorming and free writing, and a working thesis has been created, the last step a writer can perform in the prewriting stage is creating an outline. An outline allows a writer to categorize the main points, to organize the paragraphs into an order that makes sense, and to make sure that each paragraph/idea can be fully developed. Essentially, an outline helps prevent a writer from getting stuck when performing the actual writing of the essay.
An outline provides a map of where to go with the essay. A well-developed outline will show what the thesis of the essay is, what the main idea of each body paragraph is, and the evidence/support that will be offered in each paragraph to substantiate the main points.
The following is an example of an outline:
Thesis: In order to succeed in the classroom, college students need to utilize the resources available to them throughout their college careers.
- Find the right program(s) and/or career field
- Implement a plan for fulfilling program requirements
- Sign up for the correct classes
- Verify prerequisites
- Find times that work
- Locate proper instructor
- Evaluate progress
- Help with content
- Study groups
- SI sessions
- Computer Labs
- Academic websites
- Forums and online discussions
In this example, the Roman numerals I, II, and III are each of the body paragraphs that will appear in the essay. Next to each Roman numeral is the central idea behind each paragraph and how it relates to the essay’s main point (or thesis). The letters that appear under each Roman numeral show the details that will be offered in each paragraph to support the main idea of the paragraph. If some of the details require multiple explanations, these are noted with numbers under the letters.
Notice all that the above outline accomplishes: The main ideas/paragraphs of the essay have been grouped into an order that makes sense; the main idea behind each paragraph is identified along with the support that will be offered. Essentially, the essay is completely organized. Now the writer can simply follow the outline and turn each idea into a paragraph by expanding on the details that are present.
While creating an outline such as this will take a small amount of time, the time put into creating this outline should result in saving even more time during the writing phase. If following the outline, the writer should not get stuck wondering what comes next or how to expand upon an idea.
An essay is a short piece of writing that discusses, describes or analyzes one topic. It can discuss a subject directly or indirectly, seriously or humorously. It can describe personal opinions, or just report information. An essay can be written from any perspective, but essays are most commonly written in the first person (I), or third person (subjects that can be substituted with the he, she, it, or they pronouns).
There are many different kinds of essays. The following are some of the most common ones:
Examples: A descriptive essay could describe . . .
- a tree in my backyard;
- a visit to the children's ward of a hospital;
- a hot fudge sundae;
- what an athlete did in order to make it to the Olympics.
The descriptive essay provides details about how something looks, feels, tastes, smells, makes one feel, or sounds. It can also describe what something is, or how something happened. These essays generally use a lot of sensory details. The essay could be a list-like description that provides point by point details. Or, it could function as a story, keeping the reader interested in the plot and theme of the event described.
Examples: A definition essay may try and define . . .
- the meaning of an abstract concept, like love;
- the true meaning and importance of honesty;
- how the meaning of family goes deeper than just your blood relatives.
A definition essay attempts to define a specific term. It could try to pin down the meaning of a specific word, or define an abstract concept. The analysis goes deeper than a simple dictionary definition; it should attempt to explain why the term is defined as such. It could define the term directly, giving no information other than the explanation of the term. Or, it could imply the definition of the term, telling a story that requires the reader to infer the meaning.
Examples: A compare/contrast essay may discuss . . .
- the likenesses and differences between two places, like New York City and Los Angeles;
- the similarities and differences between two religions, like Christianity and Judaism;
- two people, like my brother and myself.
The compare/contrast essay discusses the similarities and differences between two things, people, concepts, places, etc. The essay could be an unbiased discussion, or an attempt to convince the reader of the benefits of one thing, person, or concept. It could also be written simply to entertain the reader, or to arrive at an insight into human nature. The essay could discuss both similarities and differences, or it could just focus on one or the other. A comparison essay usually discusses the similarities between two things, while thecontrast essay discusses the differences.
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Examples: A cause/effect essay may explain . . .
- why a volcano erupts, and what happens afterwards;
- what happens after a loved one's death.
The cause/effect essay explains why or how some event happened, and what resulted from the event. This essay is a study of the relationship between two or more events or experiences. The essay could discuss both causes and effects, or it could simply address one or the other. A cause essay usually discusses the reasons why something happened. An effect essay discusses what happens after a specific event or circumstance.
The below example shows a cause essay, one that would explain how and why an event happened.
If this cause essay were about a volcanic eruption, it might go something like:
"Pressure and heat built up beneath the earth's surface; theeffect of this was an enormous volcanic eruption."
The next example shows an effect essay, one that would explain all the effects that happened after a specific event, like a volcanic eruption.
If this effect essay were about a volcanic eruption again, it might go something like: "The eruption caused many terrible things to happen; it destroyed homes, forests, and polluted the atmosphere."
Examples: A narrative essay could tell of . . .
- my brother's and my fishing trips;
- a boring trip to the grocery store;
- my near-death experience at the beach.
The narrative essay tells a story. It can also be called a "short story." Generally the narrative essay is conversational in style, and tells of a personal experience. It is most commonly written in the first person (uses I). This essay could tell of a single, life-shaping event, or simply a mundane daily experience.
Examples: A process essay may explain . . .
- how to properly re-pot a plant;
- how an individual came to appreciate hard work.
A process essay describes how something is done. It generally explains actions that should be performed in a series. It can explain in detail how to accomplish a specific task, or it can show how an individual came to a certain personal awareness. The essay could be in the form of step-by-step instructions, or in story form, with the instructions/explanations subtly given along the way.
Examples: An argumentative essay may persuade a reader that
- he or she should use public transportation instead of driving.
- cats are better than dogs.
An argumentative essay is one that attempts to persuade the reader to the writer's point of view. The writer can either be serious or funny, but always tries to convince the reader of the validity of his or her opinion. The essay may argue openly, or it may attempt to subtly persuade the reader by using irony or sarcasm.
Examples: A critical essay may analyze . . .
- how Shakespeare presents the character, Othello, in his play, Othello;
- the strengths and weaknesses of the movie, Children of a Lesser God;
- the use of color in Monet's painting, Sunflowers.
A critical essay analyzes the strengths, weaknesses and methods of someone else's work. Generally these essays begin with a brief overview of the main points of the text, movie, or piece of art, followed by an analysis of the work's meaning. It should then discuss how well the author/creator accomplishes his/her goals and makes his/her points. A critical essay can be written about another essay, story, book, poem, movie, or work of art.
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