Final Outline

Contributor: Jodi Powell. Lesson ID: 12007

A mature tree has branches strong enough to hold its leaves, and perhaps some nests and a few squirrels. Similarly, a mature outline forms a strong structure on which to hang the words of your paper!



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

Lesson Plan - Get It!


The Final Outline. There is a very important word in that title: Final. It means you're nearing the end. There's a light at the end of the tunnel! Just a few more steps and you will see the fruit of your labor: a finished, polished, research paper. But first, you must master the final outline!

If you are viewing the research process like a plot line, the note-taking step can be viewed as the climax.

Every step after that is a part of the falling action. Now, it's just a matter of putting all the pieces into place. The next piece is the final outline. The good news is if you made detailed and accurate note cards, then all you are doing at this step is transferring the information from your note cards into an outline. If you recall, you already have a preliminary outline prepared, so you will technically just be updating the preliminary outline by adding all of the facts you collected while making note cards.

Before moving on, if you need to view or review any of the previous Writing a Research Paper Related Lessons from the introduction to note taking, you can find them in the right-hand sidebar.

Review the basics for creating an outline by reading the articles Four Main Components for Effective Outlines and Why and How to Create a Useful Outline, created by the Purdue Online Writing Lab.

The preliminary outline that you created contained the basics: five main topics and your thesis statement. To create your final outline, you will build from your preliminary outline. Each note card you created has a slug or topic heading at the top of the card. The slugs will direct where each piece of information should go in your outline.

There are two types of outlines: topic outline and sentence outline. Your preliminary outline is a topic outline and your final outline will be a sentence outline. It is not necessary to use a sentence outline for every outline you create, but you will use a sentence outline for this particular research paper. Read over Research Paper Sentence Outline, provided by Shoreline Community College, for an explanation of sentence outlines.

Below are the six steps to using your note cards to create an outline. Read them carefully since you will soon be applying them:

  1. Organize your note cards into five piles, one for each main topic.
  2. Begin with the introduction cards. Scatter the cards out and read over all of the information that you collected. Determine the best order for the information and record it in your outline in that manner. Remember, the very last note card (and therefore the last point in this section) of your outline must be the thesis statement.
  3. Next, scatter all of your note cards for Topic One. Determine the most logical order for presenting the information, then copy it into your outline. Remember, when doing a sentence outline, only one sentence is permitted per Roman numeral, letter, or number. Look over the example outlines at Writing an Outline, provided by Austin Community College. Your outline should most closely follow Sample Outlines #2 and #3, because they are both sentence outlines. Also, your outline will contain more information than these examples; however, they still serve as a good example for proper formatting.
  4. Repeat Step 3 with Topics Two and Three. Each main topic is a new Roman numeral.
  5. Finally, follow this same procedure to fill out the section of your outline for your conclusion. Scatter the cards out and read over all of the information that you collected. Determine the best order for the information and record it in your outline in that manner.
  6. It is imperative to transfer the citation information from your notecards onto the outline. For example: Hawaii became the 50th state of the United States of America in 1959 (Smith 16). For more information on in-text citations, read the In-Text Citations, found in Downloadable Resources in the right-hand sidebar. More detailed information on using in-text citations will be covered in the next Related Lesson on drafting the body of your paper.

Take a moment and talk with your teacher or parent.

  • Is there anything about the outlining process that confuses you?
  • Have you created an outline before?
  • What part do you think will be easy for you?
  • Which part may be difficult?

Take time to work out any of those kinks before you apply the steps later in the lesson.

Just a tip: At this point, your introduction and conclusion may be rather short, and that's fine. In the final Writing a Research Paper Related Lesson, you will learn more about the type of information to include in both your introduction and conclusion.

Next, prepare to use your organizational skills again to master the art of outlining in the Got It? section.

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