Organization: Informal Outlines

     An outline should represent a writer's best effort to explore
a subject, to break it into its parts, to arrange ideas, and to
test out possible strategies of organization for the purpose of
clarity. For short papers and extemporaneous writing, informal
notes or a scratch outline will generally serve the purpose.  Even
for long papers, you may find it useful to work informally for some
time before comitting yourself to a final, detailed plan.

Scratch Outlines

A scratch outline is a series of notes - single words or phrases - jotted down to refresh your memory as you write. An outline of this sort is useful when time is limited, as when you are writing examinations or brief papers in class. The following is a sample scratch outline for a lengthy paper on telescopes. The Development of the Telescope 1. Galileo and the basic refractor 2. The multi-element telescopes of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. 3. Newton and the reflecting telescope 4. The construction of massive reflecting telescopes 5. The advantages and limitations of refracting and reflecting designs. The exact form of a scratch outline is unimportant since ordinarily you will be the only one who sees it. You can modify or rearrange the list in any way to suit your purposes.

WAT Outlines

Using an outline for the WAT exam can help with focus and organization within the short time allotted for the exam. The WAT outline can be similar to the scratch outline above, or it can contain more precise information about the position of the writer and the form the essay will take. For example, the outline below was written in response to the question "Children are an interference in the lives of men and women. Do you agree or disagree?" Introduction - agree - children are costly - children can destroy parents' relationship - you are stuck with them Costs of Children - clothes, food, necessities - education - support-possibly forever Destruction of Relationship - take away time that parents would spend alone - possible disagreements about how to raise the child - example #1 Stuck With Them - if you don't like them, you can't ignore them - you always feel responsible for them - example #2 Conclusion - kids are a bad idea Like the scratch outline, there are no complete sentences or drawn out ideas. What is important about this outline is that the writer will be able to refer back to it at any time during the exam in order to check the organization of the essay or remember where an example should be placed. (Adapted from Handbook of Current English, John W. Corder and John J. Ruszkiewicz)
Back to on-line resource file
Back to RWC home

Last updated Monday, 22-February-99 02:32:00 EDT.
All pages Copyright © 1998 Hunter College Reading/Writing Center.
Please contact WebMaster with any questions or comments.