Writing An Academic Outline

How do I write an outline? Learn the steps by reading this article.

Effective writing involves certain key elements that are not only important for the structure of a paper but also are important for organizing rational arguments for debates, and outlining speeches. Effective teachers and college professors have contributed towards some simple yet vital methods for outlines, papers and speeches throughout academia. Effectively writing both an outline and a paper includes five key areas, the introduction, three supporting paragraphs or the body, and the conclusion. The first method presented to me was known as the Cookie. This method has been an effective tool for tutoring students at different levels and for college term papers for students. In addition many papers had to be presented in the form of a speech using the same outline procedure. Learning the Cookie method has assisted many students with papers, speeches and general debates.

First and foremost one must have an introductory paragraph. This paragraph should have general information presenting the topic, interesting information to draw the reader into reading the article or paper further. In addition it must have a thesis statement. This is the main idea and usually outlines or argues the main point of the paper. It is a matter of opinion whether the thesis statement (a sentence) should be the first one in the paragraph, or the last sentence, or somewhere else. What is not really up to the individual is that the thesis statement should not only encapsulate the main idea, but also list the main reasons or arguments in favor of your opinion or basically outline what you will be discussing. The thesis statement is a mini outline. So in this particular paper the thesis statement is "Effectively writing both an outline and a paper includes five key areas, the introductory paragraph, three supporting paragraphs, and the conclusion paragraph." The thesis statement can do more than outline, it can argue a point such as "Apples are a great fruit, because they are red, round, and sweet." Then in this hypothetical paper a person would write three paragraphs to support this main idea. The first paragraph of course would be the introductory paragraph, the second, third and fourth paragraphs would revolve around apples as being red in paragraph two, apples as being round in paragraph three, and apples as being sweet in paragraph four. Finally followed in conclusion by the conclusion paragraph.

The three supporting paragraphs or body of the paper usually follow the topics outlined in the thesis statement (main idea/mini-outline). The reason they are called supporting topics is based on the idea that they provide quotes, support, evidence for the argument of the thesis statement or explanation of the various areas discussed. One can have any number of supporting paragraphs however over the years I have found three to be quite effective. If we look at the argument that education is important we might list three reasons as part of the thesis, that it effects a persons career/income, that it provides for personal enrichment/growth, and that it is can be important for socialization, as different levels of education are required by society in order to function or compete. So basically the three supporting paragraphs would revolve around career/income, enrichment/growth, socialization/optinmal functioning in society. Each first sentence of those paragraphs would restate this main idea, all supporting the overall structure.

A paper without structure rambles. Another way of looking at it is that a good lawyer has to present reasons why the defendant is guility or not guilty depending on which side of the issue he or she is on. That is what a paper and outline do. They present your logical argument.

This is why the outline format of the Cookie is so important because it can be used just as easily for speeches or arguments. As one teacher once put it, do not argue a point with me in class unless you can present three reasons why you think you are right. She required students to think logically and have some support for their arguments.

Most importantly there is the conclusion paragraph which restates the original thesis statement and then recaps the whole argument without presenting new informtion. Basically again, like a lawyers closing argument or presentation or a compelling presentation in a speech. The conclusion is the last thing a person reads and must be convincing in and of itself. However it must rely on a solid presentation of the supporting paragraphs and not introduce new information that will confuse the reader. In addition there is not adequate space to develop a new idea in the conclusion. The conclusion is therefore sometimes called the convincer.

Finally we can pull all of this together and recap effectively by illustrating the Cookie. The introductory paragraph is the top of the cookie, the three supporting paragraphs are the filling in a cookie (Oreo), and the conclusion is the bottom of the cookie that holds it all in and holds it all together. If you remove one part then the other parts won't hold together or are less satisfying. Strong structure is important. Remembering the cookie allows you to logically enter into debate, provides an immediate way of outlining a paper and speech. Without structure a paper or speech can ramble, thinking becomes cloudy, and there is less supports for the arguments or explanations you want to present. Effective outlines are at the core of effective papers and speeches. Use the simple reminder of the cookie method to help you in many situations. Most importantly effective thinking.


I. Introductory Paragraph

(Includes Thesis Statement)

II. Supporting Paragraph (Body of Paper)

III. Supporting Paragraph (Body of Paper)

IV. Supporting Paragraph (Body of Paper)

V. Conclusion Paragraph

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