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How to Make an Outline: Components of the Writing Process

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: Noreen Gunnell • updated: 2/17/2012

If you don't know how to make an outline, your best attempts at writing an essay will go awry. Learn the basics here.

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    When to Make an Outline

    It's important to know when and how to make an outline to better organize your essay subject matter.

    1. When dealing with a complex subject.
    2. When the final product is long or involves many components.
    3. When you feel it necessary to gather and organize your thoughts.

    Making an outline has many advantages.

    1. It forces you to focus on your audience, your purpose, and your material
    2. It organizes your work into a beginning, middle, and end.
    3. It helps break long complex materials into smaller, more easily managed, sections.
    4. An outline helps you identify major points and delete unimportant ones.
    5. It helps you make connections and create coherent transitions.
    6. It helps you recognize errors in thinking.
    7. It's a lot easier to rearrange an outline than it is to rearrange an entire essay.
    8. An outline helps you write with more focus.
    9. An outline gives you a chance to experiment with word choice and sentence structure.
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    Writing the Outline

    Follow these steps:

    1. Begin with your thesis statement.
    2. List your major points.
    3. Create a functional title.
    4. Create large categories.
    5. Arrange your categories hierarchically, beginning with the most important.
    6. Write the outline.
    7. Make sure your outline is organized, logical, complete, and absent of extraneous materials.
    8. As you write, use your outline as a guide. Depart from it, if necessary.

    Additional tips:

    1. Use Roman numerals correctly.
    2. Use the following labels hierarchy: I, A, 1, a, i, (a).
    3. Use chronology in your labels.
    4. Use parallel structure.
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    Lebron James humiliating Pao Gasol. I. Lebron James is the NBA's best player.

    A. Lebron James is an offensive force

    1. He averages nearly 30 points per game.

    a. He is a threat to score from the outside, from the inside, and in the open floor

    2. He averages over 7 assists per game

    a. He has an uncommon ability to see the entire floor.

    b. He makes his teammates better.

    B. Lebron James is a defensive force

    1. He averages over 7 rebounds per game.

    a. His athleticism allows him to get to balls nobody else can.

    2. He leads the team in steals and blocks.

    a. His ability to track down would be scorers and swat their shots is uncanny.