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Many students don't believe in outlining. They feel that it's a tedious, time consuming step in the writing process that simply isn't necessary, that it's "busy work" that actually hinders their creative process. Not true.

Outlining is an essential part of the writing process, particularly so when writing papers that require research. Outlining gives you a plan of attack, a map to follow as you proceed from your introduction all the way to your conclusion. By using an outline, you can evaluate the logic of your argument, the relevance of your facts, opinions, and examples, and the effectiveness of your paragraph organization.

Being able to refer to your trial outline after completing your first draft allows you to see whether you've been true to your purpose--whether you've stuck to your original game plan. If you haven't, you can then examine why. If your ideas in the draft don't follow the same logical sequence you planned in your outline, then you need to either rearrange them so that they do or re-evaluate the outline itself.

As with the note card method of note taking, I strongly recommend using an outline.

Sample Outline from Comp 101 Student

                                    Now That is Funny

Thesis:   The definition of funny has changed significantly over the last
                few years; the consequences of this change, although interesting,
                may in fact have negative effects on young people.

I.   The basic concept of funny hasn't changed.

        A.  Explain the definition of funny.

        B.   Funny is causing laughter or amusement.

        C.  Funny is anything intended or designed to amuse.

II.  However, how we get to that level of amusement seems to
      be changing, and this can be seen if one compares and contrasts
      popular movies and sitcoms from different generations.

        A.  I Love Lucy is a popular comedy from the 1950's.

        B.  The Mary Tyler Moore Show is a popular comedy from
                  the late 60's and early 70s.

        C.  South Park is a popular cartoon currently on the air.

        D.  Ally McBeal is one of TV's leading comedies.

        E.  Friends is one of TV's leading comedies.

III.  Stand-up comedy has put a new twist into the comic
        industry and into what is considered "funny."

        A.  Sinbad has a clear cut, non-offensive approach, but he
              hasn't had the same commercial   success as some comedians
              who are more hard core.

        B.  Chris Rock (conversely) is one of the most controversial
              comedians of our generation, but he also uses a lot of vulgar
              language and doesn't shy away from "taboo" subject matter.

IV.  Many of the leading Hollywood comedies use shock
        value to invite audiences in.

        A.  There's Something About Mary is a perfect example
              of using shock value.

        B.  Pulp Fiction did so as well but perhaps in an
              even more shocking way.

V.  Many movies, shows, and comedians use stereotypes.

        A.  Racial stereotypes are commonly played off, both in satirical
              and non-satirical ways (examples).

        B.  Gender stereotypes follow the same pattern: sometimes
              the dumb blonde is really a dumb blond, but other times she
              is being used to criticize the stereotype itself (examples).

        C.  The same is true for homosexual/lesbian stereotypes (Ellen).

VI.  I conducted interviews with college students asking them
        why such movies, TV Shows, and comedians are "funny."

        A.  Most frequent answer given was "I can
            relate to the humor."

        B.  Second most frequent answer was "because they say
            things we aren't supposed to say."

VII.  The entertainment industry has recently been targeting
           younger audiences.

        A.  I'll cite two recent viewing/demographic studies.

        B.  A 1998 study indicates target viewing ages for the
                      four major networks are from 14-24 years old.

        C.  A 1999 study (different source) supports the 1998  findings.

VIII.  Conclusion: Our generations conception of what "funny" is has reached a level of sophistication that depends heavily on satire, irony, and black comedy. In many ways, one could argue that it's more sophisticated than those of the past. However, it may be more dangerous too because not everyone appreciates nor understands satirical humor--especially very young and very old audience--and the consequences of misinterpreting this type of humor can actually reinforce negative stereotypes and cruel, non-empathetic behavior.


You should be able to see a few holes in this student's argument.   Notice the omission of counter-argument.   Also notice some assumptions the conclusion makes about the younger and older audiences.   The thesis also appears to need some fine-tuning.   Each of those items should be addressed during the revision process.

On a more positive note, if the student's rough draft follows the organization of this outline, the student would be doing pretty well.   It's a fairly solid game plan.   And the outline allows us to see the plan's strengths and weaknesses more clearly and efficiently than a quick reading of the essay might.