Always Outline & Start with Evidence
Maybe you feel like skipping out on an outline because it seems like a time-killer, or you think that the only outlining methods available to you involve Roman numerals. For years, I thought I wasn’t an outliner, until I realized that I just didn’t subscribe to the staid methods of outlines that my secondary teachers insisted upon. For most of my assignments in middle and high school, my teachers would make us write outlines in which each body paragraph was a Roman numeral (I, IV, etc.) and all the sub-points were preceded by an alphabetical letter. However, I typically encourage students in the Writing Center to make a more informal outlines if the formal process frustrates them, too.
Without any formal strictures, I encourage writers to look through their articles for the most important information. Compile this into a written or typed document. Then divide these pieces of evidence into groups and decide how they fit together. Do they prove a point? Do they disprove something else?
Although it may seem unnecessary, there are many benefits to outlining.
Get Started on That Thesis & Build Topic Sentences
Without looking at any of your research materials, write an informal version of what you’d like to prove in your paper, so you have this idea on hand when you start writing. Now that you have this, go back to the tentative outline and make topic sentences that go with those pieces of evidence.
When writing these topic sentences, ask yourself: What do these pieces of evidence contribute to my point? What am I suggesting when I include them in my essay? What are the implications of these pieces of evidence? Is there anything that doesn’t seem relevant to my thesis?
At this point, you may have started or even completed a draft. Perhaps you’re feeling overwhelmed by the number of resources you have to include in your paper. You have to build ethos by identifying and quoting sources that contribute to your point and state a well-informed opinion without letting your own ideas get dissolved in the research you’ve done. It’s all too easy to let the sources do the talking for you, but resist this. If your first draft starts to look like it’s falling into this territory, start to elaborate on your main points. Go back to your evidence and explicate a little bit more to help the reader understand why you included it. You may find that you included too much of a quotation and need to cut it down to allow room for your ideas, the evidence you chose no longer has a place in your paper, or that you already stated something similar a few paragraphs prior.
Although it’s easy to get discouraged by academic writing, we can only improve by going through the processes over and over again until it’s more instinctual. Regardless of your skill level, it’s always important to get feedback on your writing. If you have a writing project that you’d like to bring to the Writing Center, don’t hesitate to make an appointment.
Writing Center Blog >