Outlining the Longer Composition Part 2

  1. Indent subtopics so that all letters and numbers of the same type will come directly under one another in a vertical line.  If you are typing your paper in a Word file or Works file, the program will usually do this for you automatically.  However, you may have to use the horizontal margin at the top of the document to tab the information correctly if you have long subtopics.
  2. Begin each topic with a capital letter.  Do not capitalize other words in a topic unless they are always capitalized.  In other words, do not treat a topic as though it were book title.

WRONG:        I.   Recent Changes in American Policy

CORRECT:     I.   Recent changes in American policy

  1. There must never be under any topic a lone topic or subtopic.  There must be either two or more subtopics or none at all.  Subtopics are divisions of the topic above them.  A topic cannot be divided into fewer than two parts.
  2. Don’t use sentences in a topical outline.  Topics and subtopics should be short (single words, a phrase, or a clause at most!)
  3. As a general rule, main topics should be parallel in form, and subtopics under the same topic should be parallel in form.  If Roman Numeral I is a noun, then Roman Numerals II, III, IV and so on should also be nouns.  If it is a phrase, the others should also be phrases.  If you keep the topics and subtopics short, you shouldn’t have too much trouble.

Once you have prepared your outline, you are ready to begin writing.  If, as you write, you decide to alter your plan, simply change your outline.  The outline is not final until the paper is finished.  The important point is that if your composition is following a logical pattern, it will be clear and concise and easy to read and follow.

A WORD ON HOW TO BEGIN YOUR PAPER.  I have found in my experience that many writers have trouble starting the body of their research paper.  Writers will fret over starting in such a way that is boring or taking forever getting into the topic.

There are several ways to begin a research paper.

  • Start with a short story of a person. If your paper is about strength development begin with a description of a 100-pound weakling who started lifting weights, running, etc and started getting stronger physically and mentally.  This should be only a few sentences long and only a taste of what the reader will learn from the research you have done on the topic.  Then perhaps you can come back to this person at the end of the paper in your conclusion and describe how he gained 80 pounds of muscle and a ton of confidence as well as self-respect.  If the person you are describing is famous or known by the audience, the reader can easily identify with the topic.  By doing this, you have given your topic “a face”.  Instead of five pages of definitions, terms, numbers, causes, solutions, etc., the paper now has a human focus that the reader can more easily identify with.  You will see this technique used in nearly every article in popular periodicals such as Reader’s Digest.
  • Another way to begin is by using a startling statistic that will jolt the reader’s idea about your topic. If you have such a statistic, use it.  For instance, beginning with a sentence such as “Teenage suicide is a problem” is rather boring.  But start your paper with “Over three out of four teenagers today think about killing themselves” and you can see it is more jolting to the reader and the audience will want to read further for the reasons why so many teenagers think about and plan their murder and what can be done about it.
  • Avoid asking a question in your paper, especially questions that can be answered “yes” or “no”. The subconscious naturally answers questions given to it.  If your paper begins “Have you ever thought about committing suicide?”, the reader may just answer “no” and you have lost the audience’s interest before paragraph two.
  • If you have a great quotation that is striking or exceptionally direct, this is a way to begin the story. Avoid, long poems (eight lines or longer) or more than two sentence quotes.  You haven’t really captured the attention of the audience yet and reading long quotes or extended poetry is not the way to do it, especially in the beginning.
  • Another way to begin a paper is to just jump in with a definition of a key term. “Euthanasia is defined as ending the suffering of someone who will eventually die.”  This beginning wastes on time telling the audience what the subject is and uses concrete nouns and action verbs to clearly state it.

Here is Part 1 in case you missed it 😉