Writing Process: Outlining and Introduction
STEP 5: OUTLINING
Outlining is the process of taking the information from your brainstorming list and organizing it so you can present it in the most logical and effective way.
Start by taking your brainstorming list and identifying ideas that go together. I like to use a numbering system, but you can also use symbols, highlighting in different colors, or whatever works best for you. The important thing to remember is that your essay should be organized based on ideas.
This is the fourth entry in a series concerning the writing process. You can review the entire series at this link.
After identifying similar ideas, decide how to categorize them. What is the best way to describe this subtopic? How do they directly support your topic and ultimately your thesis statement?
If you end up with an idea that does not fit in anywhere, you have a few options. Start by analyzing the idea. If it is not necessary to your argument, discard it. If you think it’s valuable you can either alter one of your subtopics to include the idea, or you can create a new subtopic and find more support.
What a lot of students struggle with is the formatting. When you are submitting your outline, teachers will most likely ask you to follow a specific format, and will most likely give you specific instructions about this. It is important to follow these instructions (and get help if you need it). It is also important not to get so hung up on the formatting that you forget about the ideas. What I recommend is to do the formatting first. Then you can fill in the outline once you’ve decided which ideas go together.
STEP 6: INTRODUCTION
Introductions are tough to write, and tough to start. In fact, many writers rewrite their introductions after they have written the body of their essay. It is even okay to write the introduction last.
The introduction has several purposes. First, the introduction provides the background information that the reader needs in order to understand the premise of the thesis statement. Another purpose of the introduction is to provide a map for the rest of your paper. This means that each of your subtopics should be introduced with one or two sentences.
The structure of an introduction is like an upside-down triangle, it goes from broad to specific. This means that you start by introducing the larger idea, and eventually work your way down to your thesis statement (the point of the triangle), through which all the ideas of your essay are filtered. The important thing to remember is that there has to be a balance. You want to go from general to specific, but you don’t want to start too broad. It’s like helping someone find your street address. You will start giving instructions from a place the other person recognizes, some central point within your town. You probably don’t need to start with the country, state, or town name.
The first sentence of your introduction is generally called a hook. This is the third function of the introduction: to get the reader’s attention. Your hook can be an interesting fact or even a quote. Then you will provide background information and introduce your subtopics, which lead into your specific thesis statement.
Something to watch out for: Don’t use your introduction to ask your reader a lot of questions. An academic essay is not a mystery novel. You are not aiming to make your reader wonder what you will say. You won’t have a twist at the end of the essay. You are going to use your introduction, and specifically your thesis statement, to tell your reader exactly what you will write about. The sense of intrigue for your reader comes from how you will support your thesis statement, and in fact, if your thesis statement is exploring something in a new way (which it should, since you are different from every other human on the planet, and so the way you think about things will also be new).
Read the fifth installment in this series: Part 7: Body Paragraphs