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Essay Writing Outlining and Organizational Strategies Help

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Updated on Sep 8, 2011

The Assertion → Support Structure

Before discussing common organizational strategies, it's important to consider the underlying structure of essays. Whether an essay is organized by chronology, comparison and contrast, cause and effect, or some other strategy, every essay has the same underlying structure: assertion support. That is, the essay asserts an idea (its thesis) and then supports the thesis with specific examples, evidence, and details.

This assertion support structure is then repeated throughout the essay on many levels. The ideas that provide support for the thesis (major support) are assertions themselves, and therefore need support. The structure then looks something like this:

Main idea (thesis)

      Major supporting idea
        Minor supporting idea
          Support
        Minor supporting idea
          Support
      Major supporting idea
        Minor supporting idea
          Support

The exact underlying structure will vary depending upon the number and type of supporting ideas, but in all its variations, it is the foundation for most essays.

The Benefits of an Outline

Generating an outline before you draft an essay will help you in several ways. First, it will give structure to your ideas. By mapping out the order in which those ideas will flow, you create a roadmap for the drafting process. The roadmap assures that you won't veer off topic, helps prevent writer's block, and speeds up drafting.

Second, an outline will help you determine where you need more support for your thesis. When you create an outline, you'll be able to see any gaps in the development of your ideas. Strongly supported assertions stand out in contrast to weaker ones.

Third, an outline will help judge the plausibility of your thesis. If you jump into drafting without organizing first, you may find during the writing process that your thesis doesn't hold up. A good outline can help you revise, modify, and/or strengthen your thesis before you begin writing. Specifically, a good outline will tell you if your thesis is:

  • too broad. If you have trouble including everything in your outline, you probably have too much to say. Your thesis needs to be more focused.
  • too narrow. If you can't seem to find enough to say, your thesis might be too focused. You need to broaden it to create a viable essay.
  • unreasonable. If there isn't sufficient evidence to support your thesis, you should reconsider its viability. You may need to take a different stance.
  • underdeveloped. If you have many gaps in our outline, you may need to do more thinking or research to find sufficient support.
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