How to create a successful outline

Few people know how to create a successful outline, and that amazes me.

The first step is to understand the material you’re reading. If you’re simply taking chunks of the chapter, you’re not going to get anywhere. There are two different outlines: research outlines and chapter outlines. I’ll cover both here.

Research outline

Every good research paper should start with a great outline. A great outline serves as the skeleton for your entire paper.

Once you’ve figured out your topic and the general direction of your paper, creating an outline is straightforward. You must thoroughly understand your thesis before completing the outline. If you’re confused or stuck on a thesis, don’t worry about it until the end. Start with the information.

Once you’ve gathered your research, you generally know the idea of what you want to talk about first. If you’re completely lost, choose the idea that would be a great opener – something that’s controversial, interesting or your audience would agree with. To choose what’s next in line, ask yourself, “After idea A, what is an easy transition?” If you’re going from dogs to VCRs, there’s probably not going to be an easy connection. Transitions between different sections can be made very simple if you choose topics that seem to flow well together. Also remember that nothing is set in stone. If later you realize you should have put topic B where topic F is, change it.

Because this article is so long, I’m going to cut it off here and allow you to view the rest of entry if you choose to do so.

Depending on what your professor wants, sometimes you include your thesis and sometimes you don’t. Make sure you ask. Here’s a sample outline for an academic research paper:

United States’ policies on the War on Terrorism
I. Introduction
1. History of United States
2. Examples when U.S. gave up rights and negative effects
II. War on Terrorism
1. Modern terrorism
2. Compare modern to previous
3. Where is the end?
III. Legislation
2. Domestic Security Enhancement Act
IV. Policies
1. wiretapping
2. illegal search warrants
3. enemy detainees
V. Current laws
1. Constitution
A. 4th Amendment
B. 5th Amendment
C. 6th Amendment
2. Geneva conventions
3. International Humanitarian Law
VI. Conclusion

Chapter outline

Chapter outlines are simple: organize your notes on a chapter in an outline format. Do it right, and you’ll only need to read the chapter once.

All chapters have headings, sometimes they are listed at the beginning of the chapter. In this case, I create a short outline of the chapter headings and then fill in the information as I read. It works the same as online headings – h1 is the main, h2 is underneath that and so on. Here’s an example:

United States Bill of Rights
I. First Amendment
1. Freedom of religion
2. Freedom of speech
3. Freedom of the press
4. Freedom to assemble peacefully
5. Right to petition the government
II. Second Amendment – Right to keep and bear arms
III. Third Amendment – Soldiers shall not be quartered in houses of citizens without permission
IV. Fourth Amendment
1. Protection against unlawful search and seizure
2. Warrants to search/seize only issued with probable cause and affirmed by judge/magistrate
3. Warrant must give detailed description of place being search and item(s) being seized
V. Fifth Amendment
1. Right to a trial by jury
2. Protects against double jeopardy
3. Protects the right against self incrimination
4. Right to due process
VI. Sixth Amendment
1. Right to a speedy and public trial
2. Right to impartial jury in district where crime was committed
3. Right to confront witnesses against oneself
4. To have a defending attorney
VII. Seventh Amendment – Right to trial by jury in civil matters over $20
VIII. Eighth Amendment
1. Prohibition of excessive bail
2. Prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment
IX. Ninth Amendment – Protection of rights not specifically enumerated in the Bill of Rights
X. Tenth Amendment – Powers not granted to the federal government or denied to the states are reserved for the states