Outlines aren’t as intimidating as you might think. You can start by making a list of the topic sentences you want to use for each paragraph. In doing this, you may discover that you can combine or discard certain paragraphs. In the early stages of writing, it’s not uncommon to find yourself repeating thoughts or belaboring points that can detract from your paper’s central thesis.
Outlines can also help with writer’s block. If you feel stuck when you’re in the revision process, making an outline of each paragraph can help you determine which ones to keep, which ones to revise, and which ones to discard. This is often called a reverse outline.
Unless your instructor advises you to follow a specific format for an outline that is going to be submitted, you can use any format you want. For simplicity’s sake, we will provide examples of three popular versions.
Decimal outlines use numbers to list both main points and subheadings. Start your main headings with whole numbers and then assign decimals created from the heading to denote the subheadings. This format typically uses Arabic numbers and offers the advantage of helping the writer link each subheading to a central theme.
Full Sentence Formats
This format can be very helpful for organizing thoughts and material, and it can also help when it comes time to edit your paper. The full sentence format is exactly what it sounds like: writers state each topic as a full sentence. Writing complete sentences is also helpful because it provides a full record of the thought process behind your paper. These full thoughts can then be transferred directly into your paper.
If you’re thinking that the full sentence format sounds like more work than the decimal format, you’re right. It might be a viable alternative, though, if you have the time to create one. Not only does it act as a reminder of your paper’s progression, it lightens the load when it comes time to pull the finished product together.
This is very likely the first outline you learned way back when you first learned about outlines and the one you recognize most easily. One of the advantages of alphanumeric outlines is that the information is laid out logically, giving you structure for the progression of your paper.
The alphanumeric format uses Roman numerals for the main headings, meaning that each numeral denotes a distinct category. Subheadings are indented and marked with letters and details for each subtopic can be added using numbers and indents.
The basic formatting scheme looks like this:
Sample Paper: Vegetarianism
I have been a vegetarian on and off for the past six years. At some points, it was only for health reasons such as to lose weight, but recently it has been more of a cause for me. That’s not to say that I don’t sometimes give in to the temptation of a cheeseburger or grilled chicken. However, even as I enjoy the flavor, I still have to face the knowledge which I have obtained through books and friends, of the horrible conditions these living creatures must endure their entire lives. The end for them entails their merciless slaughter to be fed to humans who could just as well survive on vegetable by-products for half the cost.
The farms of today aren’t as much farms anymore as they are slaughtering factories. Even dairy cows exist under awful conditions until they burn out, at which point they become hamburgers. Chickens, pigs, and cows have no space to move around and literally have to sleep in their own waste. When chickens are ready to be slaughtered, they are lined up on a rack hanging upside down, bound by their feet, and their throats are slit one by one. Of course they don’t die immediately; everyone has heard the phrase, “running around like a chicken with his head cut off.” The argument that animals don’t have feelings is absurd; they obviously have nerves and a brain with which they sense pain and torture. I have a very hard time eating meat with that on my conscience.
For the past month or two, I have tried to maintain a lifestyle of strict veganism; that is, no meat or animal products at all. Finding the temptation of my favorite foods such as cheese and ice cream to be too great, I soon gave up. If that wasn’t enough of a blow to my conscience, I experienced a strong craving for a cheeseburger the other day and lost all willpower. All through French class, as my stomach growled furiously, the battle raged in my head: do I give in and fulfill my body’s need for whatever nutrients a cheeseburger contains, or do I stick to my beliefs and have a salad? Unfortunately, the cheeseburger won.
My point is, I can understand why people eat meat. It tastes good and even if you don’t like it, there are certain vitamins and minerals that your body eventually begins to crave because the level and concentration of them cannot be easily found anywhere else. People also argue that eating meat can’t possibly be wrong because Jesus ate it quite frequently in the Bible. The argument against this goes something like: “Well, Jesus couldn’t just go to Kroger’s and buy a pound of tofu either.”
The different reasons people choose to be vegetarians are varied and personal. I commend and admire people like my friend Jessica who hasn’t so much as touched meat in five years. If only I were that strong. Even though I have somewhat abandoned vegetarianism for now, I still think that the factory farms and slaughterhouses are inhumane, disguisting, and in desperate need of amelioration. The only way this will ever change is if enough people boycott the meat and dairy industry entirely, or at least severely decrease their consumption of animal products. It takes public awareness and action to effect change. Fortunately, this awareness is growing, so there may be some hope of one day existing in a world where all creatures can live free.
I wrote this paper in freshman English and I have made very few changes since. I used one of my freshman papers to demonstrate that this technique can be used throughout your college career — I still use it for every paper I write.
Created by Shana Scudder
Sample Paper: Stereotypes
Exceptions to the Stereotype Rule On Television
Television is forever known for imitating stereotypes and neglecting minorities. When and if we see minorities on TV, rarely do we see accurate reflections of them. The majority of television programs and movies cater to the well-known stereotypes we all recognize. Are there exceptions to this unwritten rule? In examining the TV shows I have watched in recent years, I believe there are some TV shows that do not cater to the commonly held stereotypes of minorities.
Native Americans are just one ethnic minority that is constantly misrepresented. Westerns tend to characterize Native Americans as savage and ignorant. I can’t count the number of times I have seen Native Americans portrayed as ruthless savages who have no just cause for attacking white men, scalping settlers, and raping women. However, one show, The Young Riders, has broken the mold and depicts not only the side of the white settlers but that of the Native Americans. The Young Riders is a program about the lives of six young Pony Express riders. One of the riders, Buck, is half Kiowa and half white. Several episodes concentrate on his loyalty to his Indian heritage. In one particular episode, the Kiowa Indians attack the Pony Express riders. Buck is seen discussing the matter with his Indian brother. His brother explains that the Kiowa attack the riders because they carry the white man’s word. Furthermore, he explains that as the word of the white man grows so does he, and thus he becomes a larger threat to the Indians. Consequently, in many episodes, Buck is often harassed because of his Indian blood. However, the other riders always come to bat for him and defend their friend no matter what his ethnic origin may be. The Young Riders was canceled about four years ago but while it was on, it served as an accurate reflection of the crisis between the white settlers and the Indians.
African-Americans are another minority that is usually misrepresented by television. African-Americans are most often portrayed as poor, uneducated, and very often as criminals. The Cosby Show is one program that moved beyond this unfair stereotype. The sitcom is based on a seven-member African-American household in which the father is a doctor and the mother is a lawyer. The Cosby Show was a sitcom and it did not focus primarily on the aspect of two African-Americans as affluent professionals. However, it did aid in disputing the stereotypes that African-Americans are either poor or criminals. When it first began, The Cosby Show was among only a few shows based on the lives of African-Americans. Today we see more and more shows centered around the lives of African-Americans. Many of these shows are sitcoms and do not always portray African-Americans accurately. We still need more shows about African-Americans that are more serious-minded and paint a true picture of their lives.
Although not an ethnic minority, the blue-collar working class is often a minority in today’s TV programs. Most shows focus on the professional elite, believing that the blue-collar working class is dull and boring. However, there are a few shows that dispute this theory. Roseanne, which has been on for more than seven years, is about a working class family that often has to struggle to make ends meet. There is nothing really extraordinary about Roseanne or her family. The show concentrates on real issues that blue-collar employees wrestle with every day. Grace Under Fire is a program that depicts the plight of a single mother who has to work in an oil refinery to pay the bills. She has overcome her problems with an abusive husband and alcoholism to come out on top. Both of these shows scrutinize the issues associated with blue-collar employees that are usually cast aside. Furthermore, both of these shows are about women, another minority in the television industry. It is infrequent to see a woman in the leading role. These two women have surpassed the stereotype that women are unfit for leading roles. These two shows promote not only the need for more blue-collar shows, but for more women to be cast in leading roles.
Television adheres to many of the popular stereotypes we have today. However, these selected shows are the exceptions to the rule. They all cast the stereotypes aside and reflect a true picture of the situation. Do we recognize these exceptions? If not, we need to start. They all deserve a standing ovation for their willingness to break with the ties that formerly bound them to the well-known stereotypes. We need to be more aware of what we are watching on television instead of blindly accepting what we see on TV as the absolute truth.
NOTE – This paper was written during my freshman year at University of Lynchburg in February of 1996. It has been modified from the original version (modified in November 1997). The modifications only involved correcting grammar and changing wording in several places. As far as structure and organization are concerned, no changes have been made.
Created by Sheri Baber