Two ways to create an outline: graphic and linear

Printable version of Two Ways to Create an Outline (PDF).

During the writing process, an outline provides the writer an organizational (and often visual) guide to how ideas should be presented in the paper to provide a strong, clear, and logical argument. Below are two types of outlines you can create: linear and graphic.

Linear Outlines

The outline below shows how you can divide your argument into a main claim, and then different subtopics based on the main claim. Once you have organized all of your subtopics, you can then organize your evidence for your claim.

Claim: The City should create more bike lanes

Topic 1: safety
   Subtopic:  reduces the number of cyclists on the sidewalk
      Supporting data: i. dedicated bike lanes took 1700 bikes off the                                             sidewalk, reducing cyclist pedestrian collisions
   Subtopic:  reduces car-cyclist collisions
      Supporting data: i. 18% fewer car-cyclist collisions on Bloor St                                                in 2017

Topic 2: net positive economic impact
    Subtopic: cost: $150 000/km to build
    Subtopic: increased cycling leads to more customers in local stores
       Supporting data: i. vehicular visits down 5%, but bike visits
                                           up 26%
       Supporting data: ii. cyclists spent significantly more in the                                                     shops than drivers

Topic 3: better traffic flow
    Subtopic: increased cycling means less car congestion
       Supporting data: i. 19% fewer cars on main routes with
                                           bike lanes
    Subtopic: cars don't have to slow down to accommodate cyclists
       Supporting data: i. reduced trip times
    Subtopic: adding bike lanes allows for smart re-engineering of the                            roads
       Supporting data: i. left-turn pockets can be added
       Supporting data: ii. creating bike-and-transit only streets                                                       dramatically reduces trip times
 

Graphic Outlines

Graphic outlines are a more visual way to represent material for your paper. Rather than relying on terms like topic, subtopic, and supporting data to organize your information, you arrange ideas into different "levels" by using larger or smaller shapes. For example, the main claim might be a very large circle, the three topics would then be slightly smaller circles, and the subtopics, even smaller circles. 

Example of a graphic outline with the main claim a very large circle, the three topics would then be slightly smaller circles, and the subtopics, even smaller circles.

Arranging Your Arguments

As you are developing an outline for your particular argument, consider the following guidelines:

  • Some arguments may rely on information presented in a previous section. In other words, you may need to prove A before you can explain B.
  • It is common to put your strongest argument last.
  • Sometimes it makes sense to present information chronologically.
  • You may have to reorder your points several times during the writing process.

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