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Rough Outline Essay

Writing series

5. Rough drafts:

A rough draft is "a late stage in the writing process".1
It assumes that you have adequate information and understanding,
are near or at the end of gathering research, and have completed an exercise in prewriting.

What you need:

  • Adequate time period for focus
  • Clear study area
    to eliminate distractions, whether other school projects or friends' demands,
    in order to concentrate on the task at hand
  • Preparation and research
    with as much current and historical data and viewpoints as necessary
  • Target audience
    or a clear idea for whom you are writing:
    your professor, an age group, a friend, a profession, etc.
  • Prewriting exercises
    and notes on ideas from your research
  • Review all the above.
    Don't "study" it; just refresh yourself on the main concepts for now

What you will NOT need:

  • Title or introduction:
    derive these from your prewriting exercise
  • Reference works, print-outs, quotes, etc.
    Rely on your notes, and don't overwhelm yourself with facts.
    Details can be added; you now want to focus on developing your argument
  • Edits!
    Do not revise as you write, or correct spelling, punctuation, etc.
    Just write, write, write.
    This is the first draft, so what you put down will be revised and organized "after"

Take a break after your prewriting exercise!
Refresh yourself

  • Review the ideas, topics, themes, questions
    you have come up with in your prewriting exercise. Try reading the prewriting text out loud ( a type of self-mediation). Listen for patterns that seem most interesting and/or important. Summarize them.
  • Evaluate the ideas, topics, themes, questions
    whether by scoring, prioritizing, or whatever method seems best.
    Keep this list in case your first choice(s) don't work
  • Sequence
    what you have prioritized as in outlining, above.

Writing your draft (3):

Your first paragraph

  • Introduce the topic; entice the reader (remember: audience)
  • Establish perspective and/or point of view!
  • Focus on three main points to develop

Establish flow from paragraph to paragraph

  • Topic sentences of each paragraph
    define their place in the overall scheme
  • Transition sentences, clauses, or words at the beginning of paragraph connect one idea to the next
    (See the page on transitional words and phrases)
  • Avoid one and two sentence paragraphs
    which may reflect lack of development of your point
  • Continually prove your point of view throughout the essay
    • Don't drift or leave the focus of the essay
    • Don't lapse into summary in developing paragraphs--wait until its time, at the conclusion
  • Keep your voice active
    • "The Academic Committee decided..." not "It was decided by..."
    • Avoid the verb "to be" for clear, dynamic, and effective presentation
      (Avoid the verb "to be" and your presentation will be effective, clear, and dynamic)
    • Avoiding "to be" will also avoid the passive voice
  • Support interpretations with quotes, data, etc.
    • Properly introduce, explain, and cite each quote
    • Block (indented) quotes should be used sparingly;
      they can break up the flow of your argument


  • Read your first paragraph, the development, and set it aside
  • Summarize, then conclude, your argument
  • Refer back (once again) to the first paragraph(s) as well as the development
    • do the last paragraphs briefly restate the main ideas?
    • reflect the succession and importance of the arguments
    • logically conclude their development?
  • Edit/rewrite the first paragraph
    to better set your development and conclusion

Take a day or two off!

See also:
Rough drafts: Academic Resource Center, Sweet Briar College, Tips for Writing Rough Draftshttp://www.arc.sbc.edu/roughdraft.html, November 15, 2000.
Seven stages of writing assignments:

Index | Develop your topic (1) | Identify your audience (2) |
Research (3) | Research with notecards | Summarizing research |
Prewrite (4) | Draft/write (5) | Revise (6) | Proofread (7)

Now, we’re going to talk about the importance of creating an outline before you begin writing a paper. A number of students skip this step – mostly because they want to get the hard process of writing a rough draft out of the way. Don’t make this mistake. Once you start writing proper essay outlines, you’ll never go back.

There are a variety of reasons why outlines are not only useful, but necessary in writing a great paper. First of all, an outline makes the writing process run smoothly. You already know what you want to say, and how you want to say it. You already know what points you want to hit. You already know where your important quotes go. Plenty of students simply build on their outline and call it a rough draft. Once you take away the numbers and letters, you’re left with a workable paper.


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Outlines also give you an idea of where to go next. Since you know what point you’re building toward, you can aim your writing in that direction. For example, if I want to use Barrack Obama to navigate toward a conversation about medical insurance, I’m going to cater my quotes and information to hit that point. I’m getting from Point A to Point B. This makes my writing clear and direct. I’m not scrambling to make a relevant point.

In addition, for those of you who hate sitting down and writing for three or four hours, creating an outline breaks your writing up into bite-sized chunks. You can sit down, elaborate on a few important points, then take a break. When you come back, you’ll still be in the exact same place you were before. You won’t need to get your mind back in the game. Your writing will already be there. You won’t have to think of somewhere to go next. You’ve already done that. Your writing will be anything but sporadic, and you won’t be able to tell when you took a break or lost your sense of motivation.

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Finally, in the long run, having an outline saves you time. Your paper will be clean, precise, and straightforward. Your professor will appreciate the amount of thought you put into the structure of your essay. And, in addition to everything we just said, you won’t feel the constant pressure to come up with useful ideas. Everything will be done already. You just have to write.

Writing is much easier when you know where you’re going with it.

Before we move on and talk about actually writing your rough draft, we’re going to give you a quick step-by-step guide to creating an outline. If you’ve chosen a topic (or, if you’re using the topic we provided), make an outline. You don’t have to write a rough draft or look for resources. Just see what you can create based on your subject. Chances are, you’ll find that writing an outline helps you formulate  and connect ideas and stay on track.

1. Organize your paper in a stepping-stone fashion with both numerals and letters from the alphabet. For example –

            A. Introduction

                        1. Hillary Clinton

                        2. Barrack Obama

                        3. John McCain

            B. Hillary Clinton

                        1. Health Care

                                   a) Proposals

                                   b) Experience

                        2. Prison Reform

                        3. Scandal

2. Once you’re organized, add a sentence or two for each subsection. What point are you trying to make in this section? What are you trying to say?

3. When you’re formatting your outline, only add a subsection if you have more than one thing to talk about. If you only need to make a singular point, don’t bother with a subsection. For example –

            A. Hillary Clinton

                        1. Prison Reform

            B. Barrack Obama

This outline doesn’t make sense. If you want to talk about prison reform and Hillary Clinton, but the whole subject in the same line. There’s no sense in creating a subtopic when it’s actually the main essay topic. It should become –

            A. Hillary Clinton and Prison Reform

            B. Barrack Obama

It just makes your outline neater and easier to understand.

4. Add to your outline as you come up with more ideas.

5. Add quotes from your research to your outline. If there’s something you want to quote in your paper, it should already be included in the outline. That way, you don’t have to worry about quote placement after you’ve written your essay.

Again, outlines are a huge part of the essay writing process. They help you stay organized and keep your thoughts collected. Getting into the habit of making a proper outline for your essays will ensure that you inch closer and closer to that “A” paper.

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