Creating a Working Outline

An outline is a systematic way of organizing your ideas for your paper. Any list can be an informal outline and may work for your purposes. Sometimes you may want to use a formal outline to manage your information as your research expands. This can help you organize and manage your information as you draft your paper.

Many writers organize their work more quickly and easily when they first make an outline of the material they wish to cover. The organizing principle of your outline will depend on your topic, the argument you intend to make, and the expectations of your audience. There are as many types of outlines as there are writers! Some people work better with longer outlines of complete sentences; others find that simple keywords do the trick. Whether you are developing a topic outline or a sentence outline, keep the following points in mind:

  • Work from your thesis statement. In fact, it's wise to put it at the top of your outline for reference.
  • Most word processing programs will automatically fill in the numbers and letters when they recognize that you are creating an outline.
  • Start with broader topics and then work toward the specifics.

Sample Outline

An outline of a writing project can serve as a reliable road map to your project’s destination. By outlining your key points, you can insure that your most important ideas do not get left behind. The following outline structure can be helpful as you develop your individual outlining style.

A. Introduction

1. Current task 

2. Area/Persons of Focus

3. Key terms

4. Thesis statement

B. Background

1. Historical Overview

2. Link between history and current events

3. Gaps in the current materials

C. Major Point I: _____________________ 

1. Minor point related to Major Point I 

a. Evidence (Name your sources in your outline!) 

2. Minor point II related to Major Point I

a. Evidence 

D. Major Point II: ____________________

1. Minor point related to Major Point II

a. Evidence

2. Minor point related to Major Point II

a. Evidence

E—G. Other Major Points, following the structure of C and D.

H. Conclusion

1. Restatement of Thesis

2. Next steps in the research and literature conversation

3. Limitations in the research

Outlining is not the only prewriting activity you can try. See the KU Writing Center writing guide on Prewriting Strategies for more ideas.