Outlining an Essay

Learning Objective:

  • Develop an outline for an essay.

LESSON
Using an outlineA preliminary plan for a piece of a writing, often in the form of a list. It should include a topic, audience, purpose, thesis statement, and main and supporting points. is helpful when you are reading a textbook or an essayA short piece of writing that focuses on at least one main idea. Some essays are also focused on the author's unique point of view, making them personal or autobiographical, while others are focused on a particular literary, scientific, or political subject. or taking notes in class. It is also helpful when you are the writer. Outlining is an excellent tool for planning and organizing your contentThe text in a writing that includes facts, thoughts, and ideas. The information that forms the body of the work.. Different types of writing styles can use various outlining formats, but all outlines contain the same basic elements: main ideaThe most important or central thought of a reading selection. It also includes what the author wants the reader to understand about the topic he or she has chosen to write about., major supporting detailsStatements within a reading that tie directly to the work's main idea. These can be provided in examples, statistics, anecdotes, definitions, descriptions, or comparisons within the work. , and minor supporting detailsSmaller statements within a reading that tie directly to major details..

When writing an essay that uses examples from personal experience to support an opinionPoint of view that shows a personal belief or bias and cannot be proven to be completely true.—sometimes called an exemplificationA style of writing that uses personal experience to support an opinion. essay—the outline should list the opinion (main idea), followed by the supporting details. Remember that if you are outlining a paragraph, the main idea is the topic sentence; whereas, in a longer passage the main idea is the thesis statementA brief statement that identifies a writer's thoughts, opinions, or conclusions about a topic. Thesis statements bring unity to a piece of writing, giving it a focus and a purpose. You can use three questions to help form a thesis statement: What is my topic? What am I trying to say about that topic? Why is this important to me or my reader?.

  1. Main Idea
    1. Major Supporting Detail
      1. Minor Supporting Detail
      2. Minor Supporting Detail
    2. Major Supporting Detail
      1. Minor Supporting Detail
      2. Minor Supporting Detail
    3. Major Supporting Detail
      1. Minor Supporting Detail
      2. Minor Supporting Detail

For example, if a writer was describing how his father influenced his musical career, he would use examples showing how that was true. One example might be that his father taught him how to play the guitar when he was young. Another example might be that his father took him to his first performance in front of a crowd. These examples would be supporting details and depending on how in-depth the essay was to be, there might also be minor supporting details for each of the examples.

+ PRACTICAL APPLICATION+ EXAMPLE+ YOUR TURN+ METACOGNITIVE QUESTIONS