Preliminary Outline

Contributor: Jodi Powell. Lesson ID: 11708

Without a skeleton, our flesh and organs would look pretty messy! Without branches, Christmas trees would be difficult to decorate! Without an organized outline, papers would be a messy pile of words!



English / Language Arts
learning style
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • Do you consider yourself to be an organized person?

Organization is important in many areas of life, and writing a good research paper is one of them!

  • Can you think of an organizational tool you could use to organize information for a research paper?

A good research paper requires organization.

An excellent organizational tool is an outline. You have just created your thesis statement, and now you're ready for the next step of the process: the preliminary outline.

The preliminary outline helps you map out the information for the paper and keep your information organized and focused.

You have made it to stage five of the research writing process. That is something to be proud of! Let's review what you've accomplished so far:

  1. Get familiar with research writing.
  2. Select a topic.
  3. Conduct preliminary research.
  4. Formulate a thesis statement.

If you need to review, or have overlooked, any of these Writing a Research Paper Related Lessons, you can find them in the right-hand sidebar.

Step 5, creating a preliminary outline, goes hand-in-hand with the thesis statement. Recall that a thesis statement is the foundation for the entire paper. It tells the reader what to expect and how it will be organized.

The preliminary outline simply takes that one step farther. The purpose of the preliminary outline is organization. A good paper is focused and organized, and a preliminary outline will help any writer achieve that goal.

The preliminary outline states topics that will support the thesis.

A preliminary outline will not be particularly detailed; it includes basic categories of information. In fact, think of the preliminary outline as a blueprint. A blueprint is a general framework for the house; it does not include the wall colors or the furniture within each room.

A preliminary outline is very similar. It has the basic framework for the paper without having the very specific details. Those details will be included later on.

According to Research Paper Procedure: High School, by Amy M. Kleppner and Cynthia Skelton, "figuring out how to support the thesis statement will help to identify a useful topic heading for the note cards, to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant material, and to know where to put the relevant material."

The preliminary outline will allow you to categorize the note cards you will create in the next step of the process.

Every paper you write, and therefore every outline you create, will have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. The introduction will always be the very first paragraph, and the conclusion will always be the very last paragraph. The body, therefore, falls in the middle.

The formatting for the body of a paper will not be the very same for every single paper that you write. A good organizational tip is to divide the body into three subtopics. Though this may not be applicable to every paper, it will apply to many, and it's the organizational pattern that will be used for this research paper.

So, your preliminary outline should have five categories (or Roman numerals), and two of them have already been determined: the introduction and the conclusion. You are now left to determine the three subtopics that will be discussed in the body of your paper.

For a good basic explanation of the purpose of the preliminary outline, read Why and How to Create a Useful Outline, from Purdue University Online Writing Lab. As you read over this article, take note of any new information introduced.

A working outline should be set up using the following format:

  1. Begin with a thesis statement.
  2. Each main idea of the project should be numbered with Roman numerals (I, II, III, etc.), beginning with the introduction.
  3. Information that will be used to support or develop each main idea is to be indented and labeled with capital letters (A, B, C, etc.).
  4. Additional information that gives more detail to a supporting idea is also indented and labeled with Arabic numbers (1, 2, 3, etc.).
  5. The final section of the working outline is the conclusion.
  6. Always use at least two divisions for each category. Outlines cannot have a I without a II or an A without a B.
  7. Information should NOT be put into complete sentences. Keep phrases short and to the point.

View these sample preliminary outlines from Austin Community College: Writing an Outline.

Move on to the Got It? section, where you will view some more sample preliminary outlines before writing one of your own.

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