Essay Writing Outlining and Organizational Strategies Help (page 2)

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Updated on Sep 8, 2011

Kinds of Outlines

If you have to drive somewhere you've never been before, you could just get in the car and start driving, hoping your sense of direction will be enough to land you at your destination. More likely, though, you will consult a map and write down some directions. But how carefully should you plan your trip? Do you want to map out each gas station where you'll need to fill up, and each rest stop where you'll get coffee? Or do you simply need a list of route numbers and turns you'll need to take?

How thoroughly you map out your trip depends on many different factors, such as your familiarity with the terrain and the distance you'll be traveling. The same is true in writing. Do you need a detailed, formal outline that lists every major and minor supporting idea, or just a rough "scratch" outline? Again, the answer depends upon several factors, including how comfortable you are with your thesis, how well you follow a structured outline, and how many ideas you've developed through you brainstorming sessions. It also depends upon the writing situation. During a timed essay exam, you'll only have time to make a list of paragraphs and, very generally, what you'll write about in each one.

Informal Outlines

An informal, rough, or scratch outline is one that lists only the major supporting ideas in the order in which you think you should develop them. Here's an example on an informal outline.

Assignment: Evaluate the proposal to replace the current graded income tax system with a flat tax. Should we institute a flat tax system? Why or why not?

  1. Introduction—thesis: A flat tax would be good for the government and for citizens.
  2. Problems with current system
  3. How flat tax works
  4. Benefits of flat tax system
    1. for government
    2. for citizens
  5. Conclusion

This outline provides a general structure for a draft. It's not very detailed—it doesn't include the minor supporting ideas or specific examples the essay needs to be fully developed, but it can function well as a roadmap to guide the writer through a first draft.

Formal Outlines

A formal outline is much more detailed. It includes specific, supporting details and several levels of support. Here's a part of a formal outline for the same assignment:

  1. Describe problems with the current system.
    1. complex
      1. tax rates vary greatly
      2. too many intricate details
    2. unfair
      1. deductions, loopholes, special interests
      2. people with same income can pay different amount of taxes
    3. wasteful
      1. different forms for different people
      2. huge administrative costs
      3. huge compliance costs
      4. advising costs
  2. How flat tax works
    1. all citizens pay same rate—17%—for income over a set minimum
    2. all citizens get same personal exemption
    3. no breaks for special interest
    4. no loopholes
  3. Benefits
    1. citizens
      1. sense of fairness—all treated equally
      2. poorest pay no taxes
      3. simple to calculate and file
      4. families save more
      5. more faith in government
      6. people will save and invest more
    2. government
      1. streamline IRS
        1. reduce cost
          1. fewer employees
          2. less paper, printing, etc.
          3. less auditing costs
      2. healthier economy
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