The Outline Process
Drafting an Outline
Having looked through your research materials, you now have a better idea about your topic and how you want to approach it. Drafting an outline is the best way to organize your ideas. There are many models and theories regarding drafting outlines. In general, this stage should take you no more than about 15 minutes.
One Method: Using a blank sheet of paper, write down the key ideas you have about your topic in any order as they come to you. Then number your ideas in terms of their importance to your topic. If you are writing a persuasive or argumentative essay or term paper, you want to select your best arguments. If you are writing a descriptive essay explaining a process, number the stages in order.
This method allows you to select the best arguments/stages, and to arrange them in order. Depending upon the length of your essay or term paper, these arguments/stages can become the topic sentences of your paragraphs or the main focus of individual sections of the overall work. This being done, rewrite the outline on another sheet of paper listing arguments from top to bottom according to the number you gave each. This provides you with a general "chronological" outline for the writing of your essay.
The Thesis Statement
Writing the Thesis Statement is perhaps the single most important step in writing your essay or term paper. The thesis statement will be closely read by your professor or instructor, who will often criticize students' theses for being too general or unclear. Therefore, as the thesis will determine how your paper in general will be read, it is critical that you write a clear, focused thesis.
The thesis statement should be located at the end of the introductory paragraph of your essay. It should usually be only one sentence long, and it may be helpful to clearly designate the statement as the "thesis". For example, in an argumentative essay, you might begin: "This essay will argue the thesis that . . . ."
The thesis statement is, quite simply, what your paper will be about and/or the key argument that you will be making. While having a general topic helped in the research stage, your thesis must be as focused as possible.
The thesis statement usually consists of two parts: the first noting the topic, and the second stating clearly the main point or objective of the paper. Thus, if the topic you chose was "The Causes of World War II" your thesis statement might read something like this: "This paper will argue that the primary cause of World War II was the Allied treatment of defeated Germany in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles."
Paper Style (APA, MLA, Turabian/Chicago Style etc.)
The final step before beginning writing your paper itself involves knowing the documentation style that must be followed in body of your paper for citing your sources for quotes and other information, and in the writing of your bibliography or list of sources. Usually your instructor will explicitly state the style you must use. If not, as a general rule papers written in the Humanities will follow the Modern Language Association (MLA) Guide, while papers in the sciences or social sciences often follow the American Psychological Association (APA) Guide. There are, of course, numerous exceptions to this rule, just as there are a bewildering number of style guides. This site (http://www.aresearchguide.com/styleguides.shtml) offers a general description of the most common style guides, as well as links and examples of each style's format for citing sources and documentation of printed, audio-visual, online and digital materials.