Here we'll practice making a simple outline: a list of the key points in a paragraph or essay. This basic outline can help us revise a composition by showing at a glance if we need to add, remove, change, or rearrange any supporting details.
Some writers use outlines to develop a first draft, but this approach can be tricky: how can we organize our information before we've figured out what we want to say? Most writers need to start writing (or at least freewriting) in order to discover a plan.
Let's begin by reading a student's cause-and-effect paragraph--"Why Do We Exercise?"--and then we'll arrange the student's key points in a simple outline.
Now here's a simple outline of the paragraph:
Why Do We Exercise?These days, just about everyone, from toddler to retiree, seems to be running, pedaling, lifting weights, or performing aerobics. Why are so many people exercising? There are several reasons. Some people, the ones in designer jump suits, exercise simply because keeping in shape is trendy. The same people who a few years ago thought doing drugs was cool are now just as seriously involved in self-conditioning. Other people exercise to lose weight and appear more attractive. The paunchy crowd is willing to undergo extreme self-torture in the name of beauty: thin is in. Finally, there are those who exercise for their health. Regular, intensive exercise can strengthen the heart and lungs, build endurance, and improve the body's immunity system. In fact, judging from my observations, most people who exercise probably do so for a combination of these reasons.
Opening: Everyone is exercising.As you can see, the outline is just another form of listing. The opening and question are followed by three reasons, each expressed in a brief phrase and followed in parenthesis by an equally brief explanation. By arranging the main points in a list and using key phrases rather than complete sentences, we have reduced the paragraph to its basic structure.
Question: Why are so many people exercising?
Reason 1: Be trendy (exercise is cool)
Reason 2: Lose weight (thin is in)
Reason 3: Stay healthy (heart, endurance, immunity)
Conclusion: People exercise for a combination of reasons.
Now try it yourself. The following cause-and-effect paragraph--"Why Do We Stop at Red Lights?"--is followed by the plan for a simple outline. Complete the outline by filling in the main points given in the paragraph.
Why Do We Stop at Red Lights?Say it's two in the morning with not a policeman in sight, and you approach an empty intersection marked by a red light. If you're like most of us, you stop and wait for the light to turn green. But why do we stop? Safety, you might say, though you can see perfectly well that it's quite safe to cross. Fear of being nabbed by a sneaky police officer is a better reason, but still not very convincing. After all, the police don't generally make a habit of setting up road traps in the dead of night. Perhaps we are just good, law-abiding citizens who wouldn't dream of committing a crime, even though obeying the law in this case does seem faintly ridiculous. Well, we may claim to be following the dictates of our social conscience, but another, less high-minded reason probably underlies it all. We stop at that red light out of dumb habit. We probably don't consider whether it's safe or unsafe to cross, right or wrong; we stop because we always stop at red lights. And, of course, even if we were to think about it as we idled there at the intersection, the light would probably turn green before we could come up with a good reason for why we do what we do.
Simple Outline for "Why Do We Stop at Red Lights?":
Reason 1: __________
Reason 2: __________
Reason 3: __________
Reason 4: __________
Now compare your outline with the completed version on page two.