Outlining as an Aid to Drawing Conclusions
Many people think of outlines as prewriting tools used for structuring an essay. For instance, a thesis statement may be included along with 3 major supporting key points. However, the topic here is not primarily related to using outlines for the creation of an essay; instead, we are concerned with using outlines to help us summarize and draw conclusions from a text.
First off, it is crucial to gain an understanding of the conventional way of outlining. This will not only help you make a useful outline, it will also help you understand how to read an outline written by somebody else. However, do keep in mind that outlining is not a one-size-fits-all process; as you become more experienced with outlining, you may find that different methods work more effectively for you. For now, let’s look at the essential pieces of an effective outline:
At the top of your outline, be sure to write the thesis statement. The thesis statement is often included at the beginning of a text. In an essay, it may be the final sentence of the first paragraph, while for a shorter passage, it may be the first sentence. In essence, the thesis statement should be the “biggest idea”—it is an idea that all following ideas in the text relate back to.
Roman Numerals (I, II, III, IV):
Roman numerals denote main ideas throughout a text. In particular, these are primary ideas or claims. They make up the main substance of the text. Think of these portions as the ideas that the author wants you as a reader to take away after reading. The number of Roman numerals in an outline relies on how many main ideas are present in the text.
Uppercase Letters (A, B, C, D):
These denote subtopics in a text. In short, subtopics provide support for main ideas. These can be thought of as secondary ideas or claims. These are crucial for justifying and supporting the primary ideas or claims in a text.
Arabic Numbers (1, 2, 3, 4):
These are used to denote subdivisions within subtopics. To put it more simply, these are used when listing claims or ideas that support secondary claims or ideas.
Lowercase Letters (a, b, c, d):
Lowercase letters are details within subdivisions.
One rule to keep in mind while outlining is that there is a flow from general to specific ideas. For instance, main ideas as denoted by Roman numerals are relatively broad, while content following lowercase letters can be quite specific.
Let’s look at a simple sample outline:
Thesis Statement: Smoking should be avoided at all costs.
- Smoking is unhealthy
- Disease and Illness
- Smoking causes numerous diseases for the user
- Smoking can adversely affect others
- 2.5 million people have died from secondhand smoke related illness since 1964
- Smoking has a high economic cost
- Personal Financial Cost
- Smokers spend a lot of money on tobacco
- Smoking a pack of cigarettes per costs around $2000 per year
- Social Financial Cost
- Employers and employees lose money due to smoking-related illness
- Smoking can negatively impact social situations
- Social Stigma
There are a couple of things to note about this outline. First, not every main idea listed has the same number of corresponding subtopics. Furthermore, not every subtopic has a subdivision. This is okay! The number of main ideas, subtopics, subdivisions, and details about subdivisions will vary depending on how detailed you want your outline to be. Another important aspect to consider is the order of the outline. There is a reason that “I. Smoking is unhealthy” appears first; it is arguably the most important reason to avoid smoking, while the other main ideas may not be considered as urgent.
Learning how to create a conventional outline can be very beneficial for drawing conclusions and summarizing the content of a text. Let’s look at a review question before we go:
Which of the following statements is false?
- Outlines help us organize ideas about a text
- There is only one proper way to do an outline
- Outlines proceed from general ideas/claims to specific ideas/claims
- An outline generally uses Roman numerals to list main ideas
The answer is B! There is no one proper way to create an outline. Use whatever methods work best for you.
Thanks for watching, and happy studying!