Finalizing an Outline Help (page 2)
Finalizing Your Research Paper Outline
Now that you have a good idea of how your paper is going to be organized and how it will eventually look, it's a good idea to finalize your outline and fill in as many specifics and as much information as possible. A good, thorough outline will be the foundation and the blueprint for your paper. It will make the writing process simple and easy to follow. This lesson will show you how to make a detailed and vivid outline.
Your note card arrangements and the sorting process have already helped you to see how your paper might be organized. Now you should take all your knowledge and write it down on a single sheet of paper that you can always refer to and keep handy no matter what part of the research paper you are working on. The first step in writing your final outline is to make a chart that looks like this:
THESIS STATEMENT = [One sentence]
INTRODUCTION = [includes thesis statement]
- 1) SECTION #1
- 2) SECTION #2
- 3) SECTION #3
Depending on the length of your paper, you can also begin to approximate roughly how long each section will be. If you are writing a paper for a specific class or the length has been dictated to you in advance, then you can revise your outline to reflect how many pages you will write for each part of your paper. If there is a specific length requirement, then, based upon the volume of information you have gathered and the total number of your note cards, you can try to approximate its length. Simply fill in the number of pages in each section as you think they might be and don't worry about being exact yet. Remember, you haven't started to write. Some sections may have more pages than you originally intended and that's fine. For the moment, just guess. If your assignment was to write an 18- page paper, your outline might be:
THESIS STATEMENT = [One sentence]
INTRODUCTION = [One page or two paragraphs]
- 1) SECTION #1 = 5 pages
- 2) SECTION #2 = 5 pages
- 3) SECTION #3 = 5 pages
CONCLUSION = [Two pages]
Again, remember that this is not exact. You might write a slightly longer introduction or perhaps section three, the last part of your paper, might be a little longer than the two previous sections. This breakdown just provides you with another, more specific visual guideline of how your paper will be structured.
Filling In Your Finalized Outline
Now that you have a general blueprint handy, it's time to begin to fill in your outline with as much specific information as possible so that it can help you. For example, let's return to the topic of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The most important part of any paper (and sometimes the hardest) is your thesis statement. What are you trying to prove in your paper? What has all your research and evidence led you to conclude about the assassination of President Kennedy? Perhaps you've decided that the assassination of President Kennedy was not a conspiracy or plot as some of the reading suggested, but the work of a lone assailant. Write in your idea at the top of your outline. It's best if you can try to word your thesis statement or overall argument of your paper as one sentence—two at the very most. The more succinct you are and the more you can condense your thoughts into a single, powerful sentence, the easier it will be for your readers to follow your argument. Now your outline will look like this:
THESIS STATEMENT = President Kennedy's assassination was not the result of a conspiracy or specific plot, but the work of a lone, angry assailant.
Again, you can change the wording of your thesis statement later, but for now try to express your idea so that you can write it at the top of your outline. In this way, you can always make sure that all your evidence, all your paragraphs in the body of your paper and in the conclusion, prove, relate to, or point back to your thesis statement. That's why it's a good idea to write it at the top of your outline.
Filling In Your Outline with Specifics from Your Note Cards
As you finalize your outline, the more concrete you can be the better. You might want to write your introduction now, even if it's a very rough draft. For the purposes of the outline, try to keep your introduction to a paragraph so that your entire outline can fit onto a single sheet of paper (you can make it longer later). The thesis statement and the introduction can be the hardest parts of the paper to write because it's the first time you are actually putting all your thoughts into words. But don't worry or be intimidated. Whatever you can put down now will help you later on when you finalize your last draft. After you write your thesis statement and introductory paragraph, you can fill in the three body sections. Remember how you organized your note cards in the last chapter? Write one topic sentence or brief subject heading next to each section so that your outline looks something like this:
SECTION #1 = President John F. Kennedy's first two years in politics and key political actions and strategies that caused controversy …
SECTION #2 = Reactions to President Kennedy's policies and specific opposition from law makers and constituents …
SECTION #3 = Acts of sabotage and obstruction. Anger over Kennedy's policies and how this anger resulted in violence…
Again, as you start to write, you may refine or narrow your sections, but these broad topics will give you a solid basis for organizing your paper. The last step you can take is to refine your outline further. You can do this by taking your note cards and arranging them in a final order according to your section headings. In other words, you have your sections clearly divided, you know your thesis, what each section will be attempting to prove and argue; now all you need are the specific facts, data, quotes, and statements—all of which are clearly listed on your individual note cards.
To finish the outline, you might also want to try to write down your conclusion. Although most people wait until the actual end of their paper to write their conclusion, sometimes it helps to try to think ahead and write what you will be summarizing. Just as you did for your introduction, you can write a very rough, preliminary paragraph, just so that you get an idea of what your summary could look like. In this way, your entire outline can be organized and specific. You know about how many pages each section will be, your argument is concrete, and all your material is there—ready to be linked together. In the next chapter, we will discuss how to bundle the material from your notes and form it into persuasive, analytical writing. Your entire outline should fit neatly and easily onto a single sheet of paper so that you do not have to go back and forth between different sources or sift through scraps of paper.
Keep your outline with you as you write and refer to it constantly. Although it may change once you begin writing, you will always have it as a basic guideline and original map of your thoughts. Remember, your outline is a starting point and a solid, visual way to organize your thoughts and sources. When you begin the actual process of writing, you don't have to worry about how to organize your sources or how they will all fit together.
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