You've gotten a new assignment: you're required to read a primary text, cite 3 secondary sources, and write an analytical paper with introduction, thesis, supporting arguments and a conclusion.
You probably have a lot on your mind regarding developing your ideas and articulating them in a brilliant paper. Before you blast through the door to the library though, you need to write an outline that will contain the core of your ideas in brief.
I won't attempt to convince you of the necessity of writing an effective outline, I only hope that I can convince you to try it and see it work for yourself. Luckily, it's an easy thing to do, especially when you follow these 3 steps:
Finding Your Thesis
You may get bogged down in all of the aspects of constructing your paper, but there are really only three things you should be concerned with: finding your argument, making your case, and organizing your supporting evidence.
Essentially you're only making one argument, which is your thesis. This single statement alone will decide the entire direction of your paper.
How do you come up with one? By writing about what interests you most about your primary text or topic. It doesn't matter if you have no interest whatsoever in what you're studying, with a little effort you can find something worth writing about.
Getting Your Research Together
Next is the construction and presentation of your supporting evidence. During the course of your research, you're likely to find a bunch of sources that are interesting and add new dimensions to your paper, but have little to do with your thesis. You'll also find sources that are more pertinent to your topic but less interesting. Is it okay to add the interesting stuff to your paper?
The answer is that it is okay but that you should stick primarily with the relevant content; it should be the majority of your paper. If you'd like to throw in some more controversial stuff, feel free to, sometimes it can really add to your presentation. But remember that straight-shooting, precise and relevant writing always does well, while writing that goes off on tangents does well some of the time.
Also remember that your supporting paragraphs don't stand alone but that they work together. You need to think about how they logically connect to each other, and how they develop from your thesis.
Let's make sure I don't confuse you. When you first start to write your outline, you won't have any research, so just write down what you'll be looking to include. When you have completed your research and found good reference material, plan how you're going to use it in your paper with your outline.
The Final Touches
You're almost finished; you just need to check over your outline to make sure it has these elements:
1. The warm-up to your thesis. Write a general background illustrating where you're coming from and why your argument makes sense.
2. How you present your thesis and move into your first supporting statement. This crucial area is where you begin to really engage the reader.
3. Each of your supporting statement paraphrased in a sentence or two.
4. The closing point (leave the reader with a thought) of your conclusion.