Out in the Open: The Outline
You might find that your work becomes easier if you create an outline, a kind of blueprint that helps you both organize your thoughts in a logical pattern and see the relationships between your main ideas and supporting ideas. You can use outlining as a prewriting method in itself, or you can use it as a way of organizing the ideas you generated in freewriting, brainstorming, questioning, clustering, or any other technique.
Outlines can be either formal or informal. If you write a formal outline, you must use a prescribed style. You must:
designate your main points with Roman numerals
designate your subordinate points with capital letters, Arabic numerals, and lowercase letters
alternate between using numbers and letters
have at least two entries in each category (that is, you must have at least two Roman numerals, two capital letters under each Roman numeral, and so on)
have a parallel grammatical structure in your entries (for instance, if the first Roman numeral is a noun, the other Roman numerals must be nouns)
Is all of this confusing? It won't be when you examine the sample of the formal outline that follows. The topic is comparing and contrasting watching a movie in a theater and watching a movie at home.
If the formal outline style seems a bit overwhelming, think of it this way:After you write down your main points, then you just fill in the subcategories with details or examples.
Contrast and Compare Watching a Movie in a Theater and at Home
A number of differences and similarities exist between watching a movie in a theater and watching a movie at home.
(1) Can watch wearing pajamas, if I choose
(2) Have choice of seating at home
(a) Can sit in favorite easy chair
(b) Can lie on floor or couch
More choice of times to watch
(1) Can stop to talk if phone rings
(2) Can stop for bathroom breaks
(3) Can stop if want to get food or drink
(4) Can finish watching movie another time
Fewer restrictions about food or drink
Less expensive at home
Open choice of food or drink
Much larger screen at movies
Better popcorn at movies
Earlier date for availability to be seen
Better sound system
Larger seating capacity, if needed for large group of friends
Better “maid service” (someone else picks up the discarded candy wrappers, etc.)
(Follow the same format to fill in details about the similarities between watching a movie at a theater and at home)
Looking at the organization in this formal outline, you'll see that each main entry begins with a Roman numeral. Next are the indented capital-letter entries
If you're writing an informal outline, begin by writing your topic (main idea) and your thesis statement (the main point you're trying to make about your topic) at the top of your paper. These give you a good reference and help you keep your work focused. Some writers find creating an outline after they've finished their first draft to be helpful. In looking over the outline, they see how well — or not so well — their ideas connect.
More information on freewriting, brainstorming, clustering, and outlining is available at these Web sites:
If you're outlining from a list or cluster you've already created, take a look at what seem to be your major points. Fill these in as the main categories of your outline, leaving a number of lines in between them. After that, go back and fill in details or examples about each of the main points. If you have additional points about the examples or details, write them under the appropriate category (again, make sure you indent a little with each new subcategory). If you indent the same amount each time you write a subcategory, you'll be able to see the various sections more easily.