The hardest part of essay writing can be the organizational aspects and developing an effective structure. A good method for ensuring you put your ideas across in a coherent and logical manner is to create an essay outline before you start the actual writing process. A well-developed outline is also a great time-saver when it comes to the revision stage because proper structure at the outset reduces the possibility of you having to rearrange your ideas after they have been written.
The Initial Steps
Prior to starting any type of outline whether it is, for example, a persuasive or argumentative essay outline, you should have a good idea about what you will be discussing or arguing. Having carefully read and analyzed various primary and, perhaps, secondary sources, you should have developed various thoughts and ideas on the subject as well as having made notes and possibly decided on some quotes to use as supporting evidence. If, for instance, you are asked to write about a particular Primary race for a given year and you are trying to argue that the most important aspects of that campaign were the monetary resources of each candidate, it is likely your notes lack proper structure when you start the process. Very possibly, your initial ideas are still arranged in the sequence you thought of them and your sources in the order you read them and took notes. Your objective now should be to rearrange all your material and reorder it in a way that effectively supports your viewpoints or arguments, rather than in the order, you read them. To achieve this, you should arrange your notes and source material into categories and assemble these in logical, sequential order.
Devising General Categories
Firstly, to develop an effective argumentative or persuasive essay outline, you should look back at all the information in your notes and apply a general categorization to each piece. Work out what you might file each piece of information under if you were to store it in a database or filing cabinet. If, for instance, you were making a point about a politician’s proposals for health or medical care, you may well file related material and ideas under a general heading of “Health and Medical Care.” Hence, as you review all your notes, try and reuse your different categories wherever feasible. The aim is that your notes become reduced to one page of categories and no more.
Now, it is time to go back and look at your categories list. Is there any repetition in it? For example, your essay outline template might have two categories to show how much a particular politician spends on advertising and how much the president spends on advertising. While these are not exactly identical, they could be combined into one more general heading such as “Political Expenditure on Advertising.” Additionally, you should be vigilant about groupings that are no longer relevant to your stance on the topic. Chunks of information that might have seemed important at first can seem less relevant or redundant as your categorizations develop.
Then you come to the stage for more generalization. Look again at all the categories you have created, this time scanning for commonalities. Review each individual category, asking yourself how you would label certain pieces of information if you were placing them in a filing cabinet. Once again, your aim should be reusing tags and labels as frequently as you can. In this guide on how to write an essay outline, we suggest you make the bigger categories as general as you can so that you have around three or maybe four (no more) for a paper of seven to ten pages long.
Putting Order to Your Work
The task of putting order to your research notes should be easier once they are categorized. Begin by casting an eye over the most general groupings on your list. Keeping your thesis statement to the fore, try to think of a way that the labels might be used to create one or two sentences that back up your main argument. Say, for instance, that you have written a thesis that states that the availability of sufficient financial support was crucial in a particular Primary campaign. To support this, your four largest general categories are: “Availability of Financial Resources,” “Party Policies,” Voter Worries,” and “Voter Constancy.” From these, you might devise this sentence: “Even though Politician A’s suggested policies were the closest match to voters’ demands, it was the financial power behind the future president that won over the voters.” Using this essay outline format to develop the above sentence shows the order your largest general categories will follow. Your next step will be to examine both politicians’ stance on crucial issues and show how these compare to the main concerns of voters. Lastly, look at the financial clout of both candidates and demonstrate how the future president uses these effectively to win over the voters, even if his policies are not as popular.
With a good structure to your broadest categories, it is now time to put the less important categories in order. To achieve this, develop one or two sentences from your smaller categories so that these provide support to the more general sentences you wrote earlier. Hence, under the broader category of “Availability of Financial Resources,” your college essay outline might well have subcategories called “Advertising Expenses,” “Income from Fundraising,” “Contributions from Supporters,” and so on.
The last step in developing an argumentative, persuasive or narrative essay outline is repeating this process at the lowest level from your original notes. To put proper order on what possibly started as a disparate array of information with little or no organization, you now only have to develop one or two sentences to add weight to your argument. For example, under the heading of “Contributions from Supporters,” you might want to include statistical data on the amount raised by this method or you might wish to provide information on how important each candidate thinks this type of funding is. Thus, you would develop a sentence that reflects your own opinion accordingly. Other ideas and information should now flow in a natural manner.
Bringing Everything Together
Having created the above sentences you have, in effect, created an essay outline. Your first sentence containing your broad ideas makes up the different sections of the essay. The order you put on the more minor categories sets out the order the paragraphs will take within the different sections. As a final step, the last sentences you created indicate the order the sentences will take within the individual paragraphs.