Creating an Informal Outline
Many of you probably have an automatic, less than positive response to the words “essay assignment,” a response that probably becomes even less positive when you hear the instruction to “outline the essay.” Some of you may be outline resisters who prefer to draft your way into finding structure for your essay; others of you may be outline advocates and would not think of writing a draft without an outline in hand. To help resolve this conflict, we suggest that you consider yet another approach: begin by writing a fast first draft (often called a “zero draft” or an “exploratory draft”) and then outline. While one approach is not necessarily more efficient than another, outlining—at whatever stage and in whatever form you may choose—can streamline the process of drafting your essay. Take Note 4.1 shows a bare-bones organizational framework for an informal outline, to serve as a guide.
Take Note 4.1
Framework for an Informal Outline
As you fill out this framework with some of the specifics of your argument, the outline will become a starting point for planning an essay that will achieve your goals as a writer of argument.
· Lead-in “hook” sentences
· Concise overview of the issue, including its rhetorical context (see the discussion in Chapter 3)
· Explicit claim of fact, policy, or value
· Concise summary of key points of counterarguments
· Concessions to counterarguments, to acknowledge the validity of aspects of opposing viewpoints
· Refutations of counterarguments, to address and weaken aspects of opposing viewpoints
· Specific proof of claim
· Evidence grouped under three or so key points (subclaims)
· Strongest point presented last
· Restatement of claim, without repeating it verbatim
· Resolution, compromise, or call to action
An outline provides you with a blueprint for writing a first draft of an argument essay. Jotting down responses to the strategy questions in Take Note 4.2 can further prepare you for the drafting process.
Strategy Questions for Organizing Your Argument Essay
1. How can you “hook” your readers from the start—for instance, with an opening example, anecdote, scenario, startling statistic, or provocative question?
2. How much background information and rhetorical context should you include to acquaint readers with the issue?
3. Will you present your claim early in your essay (at the end of your introduction is the conventional placement) or delay it until your conclusion?
4. What are your main supporting points (subclaims)?
5. Do you have sufficient evidence for each of these points? Have you located authoritative (expert) sources that add credibility to your argument?
6. How will you address opposing viewpoints? Have you identified the key points in the counterarguments? Are you prepared to make some concessions and to build strong refutations?
7. Have you considered aspects of tone (for example, serious, comical, inquisitive, humble, thoughtful, or assertive) that would suit the issue and would lead your audience to respect and trust you?
8. How will you conclude in a meaningful way? Will you call upon readers to take action? Will you explain why the issue is important? Will you offer a compromise that benefits all sides?
After creating an outline and jotting down strategy notes, you should have a steady dialogue running through your mind; most definitely, you will have generated plenty of words on the subject. Reviewing your pages of notes, you may choose to first revise and expand your outline and then write a draft—or you may be ready to crank out that first draft.