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Writing Academic Papers Should Start with a Good Outline

When you’re writing academic papers or anything else, the use of an outline to organize your thoughts is not obligatory. In fact, gifted writers are able to think about their topic and “wing” their way to a finished product. The rest of us, however, need to organize our thoughts and put them down on paper before writing.

However, creating an outline before writing academic papers is crucial. Creating and consulting an outline before you start writing a scholarly paper ensures that your ideas and/or research will be organized and logical.

Creating an outline will also help you differentiate between your main points and subordinate ideas and avoid repetitious or unnecessary wording. Not only does an outline get you started in the right direction, but it should also lead to a narrative that is organized from start to finish and will be characterized by a high level of continuity.

Various Types of Outlines Can Be Utilized for Writing Academic Papers

There are several viable formats you can use to create your outline. They include:

  • The full-sentence outline
  • The decimal outline
  • The concept map outline
  • The simple outline
  • The index card listing outline
  • The alphanumeric outline

The Full-Sentence Outline

With the full-sentence outline, your thoughts and ideas are written out as full sentences, which will allow you to compile them into a coherent document later. This type of outline can be of excellent help in preparing the traditional essay.

The full-sentence outline would look like this example:

I. Title

A. First main point – written out in a complete sentence
B. Second main point – written out in a complete sentence
C. Third main point, etc.

The Decimal Outline

The decimal outline uses Arabic numerals to organize and compartmentalize your thoughts. It also keeps information in the correct location.

The decimal outline would look like this example:

  1. Title of your narrative (Not the subject!)

                         1.1  Introduction

                         1.2.  Body of paper

                                     1.2.1  Main point #1

                                     1.2.2  Main point #2

      1.2.3  Main point #3

                                      Sub-point #1

                                      Sub-point #2

                                                  Micro-point #1

                                                  Micro-point #2

                                                 Micro-point #3

Concept Map Outline

The concept map outline visually presents the relationships between different concepts, ideas, and pieces of information. Your main topic is surrounded by minor ideas with sub-topics, key concepts and related information, according to Overnight Essay.

Using a concept map helps you to connect ideas and show how they are related. It is a great tool for an analysis of your paper’s title and related topics.

This type of outline would look like this example:

Sub- Topic   Main Idea   Key Concept
Main Idea   Title of Paper/Project   Main Idea
Key Concept   Main Idea   Sub Topic

Simple Outline

The simple outline is the most basic of outlines. It consists of the writer’s main argument and a list of main points to be covered in an academic paper.

This type of outline can be expanded and improved as the main topic is developed, but it is not cluttered by headings and sub-headings in its early stages of development. You can easily rearrange the order of the paragraphs and find the perfect arrangement before you begin writing

This outline is ideal for the first draft of your paper, according to Rasmussen University’s Library and Writing Services. A simple outline would look like this example:

I. Main argument of your academic paper

            A. Main point #1

            B. Main point #2

            C. Other main points, etc.

II. Conclusion

The Index Card Listing Outline

Somewhat more sophisticated than the simple outline, the index card listing outline begins with an introduction and overview, followed by the main narrative of your academic paper. The main points are then listed, followed by a conclusion or summary.

All of these headings can be written on index cards, which can be re-arranged as needed, according to writer Phil Halton. A simplified version of an index listing outline would look like this example:

I. Introduction and Overview

A. Body

1. Main point #1

2. Main point #2

II. Conclusion/Summary

The Alphanumeric Outline

The most common outline – and probably the choice of most writers – is the alphanumeric outline.  It contains the main points the writer will discuss in an organized and professional manner.

In the alphanumeric outline, the writer uses numbers, letters, and periods to craft headings and subheadings. The key points are the first level of the presentation with the following levels containing the less essential points. An alphanumeric outline would look like this example:

I. Title of your narrative (Not the subject!)

A. Introduction

B. Body of paper

1. Main point #1

2. Main point #2

3. Main point #3

a.  Sub-point #1

b.  Sub-point #2 

i.   Micro-point #1

ii.  Micro-point #2

iii.  Micro-point #3

C. Conclusion

1. Analysis of Research

2. Author’s Conclusion

The alphanumeric outline is the choice of most writers/students because of its simplicity. Because information is not listed in complete sentences, the writer doesn’t have to worry about punctuation and spelling. 

In addition, this type of outline is completed with generalities and formal language is not required. Finally, the alphanumeric outline is less time-consuming to create than other outlines, according to Overnight Essay.

When You’re Writing Academic Papers, Outlines for Are Great for Ensuring You Don’t Omit Vital Information and Remain Organized

Creating an outline before you begin writing academic papers is an excellent way to ensure that there are no omissions in your paper. Any possible flaws in the organization of your paper are easily recognized when you review your outline before writing your paper.

An outline helps you to keep your main ideas firmly in mind and helps you identify secondary ideas at the same time. It will keep you on track and eliminate the introduction of unnecessary information.  

Ultimately, a well-crafted outline shows discipline in your work and will help the continuity of your writing. When you’re writing academic papers, an outline will prove extremely helpful in creating a coherent, original and well-crafted document.

Dr. Barry Shollenberger is an associate professor in the sports management program at the University. He holds a B.A. in General Studies from Moravian College, a M.A. in Education from Western Kentucky University, and an Ed.D. in Health, Physical Education, and Recreation from The University of Alabama.

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