Article of the Week

Run-On Sentences

Run-on sentences occur when writers try to combine more than one idea into a single sentence. They cause confusion because readers are not sure when one idea ends and the next one begins. Read our entry and test your knowledge with our quiz!



Creating an Outline

Creating an outline is the best way to organize your ideas before officially beginning a paper. There are a few steps we must perform in order to develop a strong outline:

  1. Brainstorm
  2. Organize
  3. Order

Brainstorm

It is important to think of many ideas that could be relevant to your paper. You also want to research the topic so that you are exposed to different sources before deciding on a position. Brainstorming tips include free-writing, clustering, and mind maps. It is important to not rush the brainstorming process.  The more pressure you put on yourself to think of "great ideas," the harder it will be to come up with them.  Give your self enough time, space, and breathing room to be inspired at let your best ideas come to you.  Your best ideas always arrive when you least expect them: lying in bed, singing in the shower, or walking the dog.

Organize

If you put similar ideas together, it can help to create a concrete organization for your paper. Look for connections between your ideas that will eventually form paragraphs.Some brainstorming techniques involve making a visual representation of these connections, through the use of lines and arrows. This also helps you identify the most important topics, since they will have the most connections. 

Order

Put your ideas into specific parts of your outline. Organize ideas according to where they would most logically support the argument or purpose of your paper. For instance, if the goal of a paper is to persuade, then you will want to create some common ground for the reader before moving into new territory. See our pages on writing informative, descriptive, and persuasive papers for more information.  

Outlines usually follow a variation of the following format:

  1. Introduction
    1. Introductory material (the hook, the problem statement)
    2. Thesis statement
  2. II. Idea #1 
    1. Topic Sentence
    2. Lead-in
    3. Example
    4. Analysis of example
    5. Conclusion/transition
  3. Idea #2 
    1. Topic Sentence
    2. Lead-in
    3. Example
    4. Analysis of example
    5. Conclusion/transition
  4. Idea #3 
    1. Topic Sentence
    2. Lead-in
    3. Example
    4. Analysis of example
    5. Conclusion/transition
  5. Conclusion
    1. Restatement of thesis
    2. Extension of paper ideas

In the introductory paragraph, you should present the main idea of your paper and include a clear thesis statement. In the body paragraphs, use a topic sentence to introduce the focus of the paragraph. Then, use specific examples that illustrate your point and analyze them. You can use one or more of these examples in a given paragraph. Finally, you want to include a conclusion that connects your examples to the thesis. 

In your conclusion, be sure to restate your thesis and discuss the implications of your paper for the future of the subject. 

Outlines do not have to be formal, and you do not need complete sentences. Outlines are used to help you organize your ideas, which makes writing papers much easier.