Two construction workers reading a blueprint.

Source: Construction workers reading a blueprint, istockphotos

Just as a builder shouldn’t try to build a building without a blueprint, a writer shouldn’t try to compose a research paper without an outline. A blueprint shows the builder where to place each component to achieve the vision of the finished building. An outline helps the writer decide the logical order for the paper: where to put supporting evidence, when—and which—quotations should be used, and whether the paper builds logically to its conclusion.

You might be thinking, “My teacher doesn’t require an outline, and it seems like a lot of trouble. I’ll just skip to the writing part.” Maybe you think that writing a paper from beginning to end is better; after all, you like to be spontaneous and creative, and writing from a blueprint isn’t your style. Fair enough, but consider this scenario: you’ve done your research, crafted a solid thesis, and you’re ready to get down to work. You begin to write. You write a compelling introduction, and you begin to write your body paragraphs. You’re close to being finished when you realize that you don’t have enough supporting evidence in a couple of your paragraphs, or two of the quotations you intended to use are too similar to each other, and a third doesn’t support your thesis at all. You arrive at the conclusion that your argument and evidence just aren’t as strong as you thought they were.

At this point, you have two choices. You can finish your paper with a weak conclusion, or you can start all over again. If you had crafted an outline, you would have thought through these problems before you began writing and saved yourself double work and much frustration. If you start over, what are your options? You could reread your research for better evidence. You could go back to the library for more sources. You could change your thesis. If you performed these actions, you wouldn’t have to settle for one of two bad choices: turning in a poor paper or starting over from scratch.

In this lesson, you will learn how to organize your research and write an outline for a research paper, which will save you the trouble and frustration of redoing a lot of work later on.