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an example of parallel structure

College Prep Writing

Outlining

Outlining is essential to the prewriting step of the five-step writing process. (See "The Writing Process.")


Outlining requires a writer to decide on a central point or a main idea, and to gather basic support for the main idea as a prelude to a first draft. This prevents a dilemma where some writers find themselves when they have started a first draft that they have not planned: they suddenly discover that they do not have sufficient support for their main idea and do not know where to take the essay next. In many cases, this means that the writer has to start all over again with a new main idea.


Outlining takes time, which is why it is sometimes neglected. However, outlining enables a writer to clearly visualize a completed essay and to spot any problems with unity or with support for a main idea. A good outline takes much of the work and time out of writing a first draft for an essay.


Outline Formats and Components

An outline begins with a title: a title gives some shape and context for an outline, and a title will be necessary for a completed essay.


Start outlining with the main idea or point you will make about your topic. Although it is not always done, the main idea should be expressed in a complete sentence. A phrase as a main idea does not contribute to the need to have a clear and explicit point with a verb. Use a sentence. It is not necessary, however, that you use the same wording of the main idea sentence in your essay.


Major-Point Outline

Next, provide support for your main idea with at least two major support points. The major support points may be reasons, examples, steps, or other evidence or support that helps demonstrate the main idea. The following is the format for a minimal outline. This major-point outline is the least you should do as prewriting for any kind of writing.


Title:

Main idea sentence: this is the point you want to communicate about the topic.

  I. First major support point for the main idea

 II. Second major support point for the main idea

III. Third major support point for the main idea


Extended Outline

An extended outline includes more detail than a major-point outline by providing subheadings or minor support points for each major support point.


A minor support point does not directly support a main idea. Minor support provides additional detail about a major support point. Minor support sentences help make a paragraph interesting because they help develop ideas and contribute detail. Support a heading with two or more subheadings. The following is the format for an extended outline.


Title:

Main idea sentence: this is the point you want to communicate about the topic.

I. First major support point for the main idea.

A. First minor support point for major point I.

    1. First minor support for minor point A.

        a. First minor support for point 1.

        b. Second minor support for point 1.

    2. Second minor support for minor point A.

B. Second minor support point for major point I.

II. Second major support point for the main idea.

For the purposes of most kinds of writing, an extended outline with major support points (I, II, and so forth) and minor support for the major points (A, B, and so forth) provides enough detail.


A conclusion is optional in an outline because generally a conclusion does not introduce new support points.


An outline should be used in the planning of all kinds of writing to help organize ideas, whether the goal is a cover letter for a job application, a memo to employees, or a chapter for a textbook.


Sample Outlines


Sample major-point outlines.

major point outlines


Extended outlines with minor support sentences for each major support point.

cv example page one


cv example page one