Trying to devise a structure for your essay can be one of the most difficult parts of the writing process. Making a detailed outline before you begin writing is a good way to make sure your ideas come across in a clear and logical order. A good outline will also save you time in the revision process, reducing the possibility that your ideas will need to be rearranged once you've written them.
The First Steps
Before you can begin outlining, you need to have a sense of what you will argue in the essay. From your analysis and close readings of primary and/or secondary sources you should have notes, ideas, and possible quotes to cite as evidence. Let's say you are writing about the 1999 Republican Primary and you want to prove that each candidate's financial resources were the most important element in the race. At this point, your notes probably lack much coherent order. Most likely, your ideas are still in the order in which they occurred to you; your notes and possible quotes probably still adhere to the chronology of the sources you've examined. Your goal is to rearrange your ideas, notes, and quotes—the raw material of your essay—into an order that best supports your argument, not the arguments you've read in other people's works. To do this, you have to group your notes into categories and then arrange these categories in a logical order.
The first step is to look over each individual piece of information that you've written and assign it to a general category. Ask yourself, "If I were to file this in a database, what would I file it under?" If, using the example of the Republican Primary, you wrote down an observation about John McCain's views on health care, you might list it under the general category of "Health care policy." As you go through your notes, try to reuse categories whenever possible. Your goal is to reduce your notes to no more than a page of category listings.
Now examine your category headings. Do any seem repetitive? Do any go together? "McCain's expenditure on ads" and "Bush's expenditure on ads," while not exactly repetitive, could easily combine into a more general category like "Candidates' expenditures on ads." Also, keep an eye out for categories that no longer seem to relate to your argument. Individual pieces of information that at first seemed important can begin to appear irrelevant when grouped into a general category.
Now it's time to generalize again. Examine all your categories and look for common themes. Go through each category and ask yourself, "If I were to place this piece of information in a file cabinet, what would I label that cabinet?" Again, try to reuse labels as often as possible: "Health Care," "Foreign Policy," and "Immigration" can all be contained under "Policy Initiatives." Make these larger categories as general as possible so that there are no more than three or four for a 7-10 page paper.
With your notes grouped into generalized categories, the process of ordering them should be easier. To begin, look at your most general categories. With your thesis in mind, try to find a way that the labels might be arranged in a sentence or two that supports your argument. Let's say your thesis is that financial resources played the most important role in the 1999 Republican Primary. Your four most general categories are "Policy Initiatives," "Financial Resources," "Voters' Concerns," and "Voters' Loyalty." You might come up with the following sentence: ÒAlthough McCain's policy initiatives were closest to the voters' concerns, Bush's financial resources won the voters' loyalty.Ó This sentence should reveal the order of your most general categories. You will begin with an examination of McCain's and Bush's views on important issues and compare them to the voters' top concerns. Then you'll look at both candidates' financial resources and show how Bush could win voters' loyalty through effective use of his resources, despite his less popular policy ideas.
With your most general categories in order, you now must order the smaller categories. To do so, arrange each smaller category into a sentence or two that will support the more general sentence you've just devised. Under the category of "Financial Resources," for instance, you might have the smaller categories of "Ad Expenditure," "Campaign Contributions" and "Fundraising." A sentence that supports your general argument might read: "Bush's early emphasis on fundraising led to greater campaign contributions, allowing him to have a greater ad expenditure than McCain."
The final step of the outlining process is to repeat this procedure on the smallest level, with the original notes that you took for your essay. To order what probably was an unwieldy and disorganized set of information at the beginning of this process, you need now only think of a sentence or two to support your general argument. Under the category "Fundraising," for example, you might have quotes about each candidate's estimation of its importance, statistics about the amount of time each candidate spent fundraising, and an idea about how the importance of fundraising never can be overestimated. Sentences to support your general argument might read: "No candidate has ever raised too much money [your idea]. While both McCain and Bush acknowledged the importance of fundraising [your quotes], the numbers clearly point to Bush as the superior fundraiser [your statistics]." The arrangement of your ideas, quotes, and statistics now should come naturally.
Putting It All Together
With these sentences, you have essentially constructed an outline for your essay. The most general ideas, which you organized in your first sentence, constitute the essay's sections. They follow the order in which you placed them in your sentence. The order of the smaller categories within each larger category (determined by your secondary sentences) indicates the order of the paragraphs within each section. Finally, your last set of sentences about your specific notes should show the order of the sentences within each paragraph. An outline for the essay about the 1999 Republican Primary (showing only the sections worked out here) would look something like this:
I. POLICY INITIATIVES
II. VOTERS' CONCERNS
III. FINANCIAL RESOURCES
a. Original Idea
b. McCain Quote/Bush Quote
c. McCain Statistics/Bush Statistics
B. Campaign Contributions
C. Ad Expenditure
IV. VOTERS' LOYALTY
Copyright 2000, David Kornhaber, for the Writing Center at Harvard University
‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ was written as a play by Oscar Wilde in 1894, during the summer and reign of Queen Victoria. The play was performed in 1895. It is a classic comedy of manners and is regarded by many critics and scholars as being the wittiest play in the English language. It is set in England in 1890s, in the city of London (Act I) and Hertfordshire, a rural county not far from London (Acts II and III) Its primary source of humour is based upon the main character Jack’s fictitious younger brother Ernest. The play focuses on Jack and Algernon, two young men in love with girls both determined to marry someone named Ernest.
Jack and Algernon both create personas to be free. These other lives allow them to neglect their duties, in Algernon’s case, or to leave their duties and pursue pleasure, in Jack’s case. Gwendolen and Cecily reveal their true selves, especially in the tea scene. Oscar Wilde set his play during the Victorian era that he lived in, the late 19th Century. ‘Pack of Lies,’ was written by Hugh Whitmore in 1983 and performed in the same year. It is set in a London suburb in the early sixties, 1961, and is based on true events. The play opens as the Jackson family greets their good friends and neighbours, the Krogers.
The Jacksons are quickly thrust into the middle of an investigation by the mysterious Stewart, who tells them that the Krogers are Russian spies. Suddenly even innocent actions take on sinister meanings as the family struggles with deception, lies and choosing between loyalty to their country or to their friends. ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is an exaggerated and stylised piece. In contrast with ‘Pack of Lies,’ it is entirely different as ‘Pack of Lies’ is realism. The genre of each play is different, ‘Pack of Lies,’ is a drama, but ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ is a comedy.
The culture of ‘Pack of Lies’ is a suburban home in outer London, where middle class, ordinary people live. It is a very neighbourly place. However the culture of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ is upper class and is set in wealthy households in both London and Hertfordshire. The historical context of each play is different as well. ‘Pack of Lies, was based on true facts as during the era that Hugh Whitmore based was the Cold War and Russia. The Cold War was the war against Hitler, which had united America and Russia, but post-war splits appeared. They stopped short of full scale war because of the development of the Atomic bomb.
It turned into a battle for world domination which is why Britain got involved. This is why there were spies who tried to interrogate each country’s security. The Cold War was 1945-89. ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ was based on the society that Oscar Wilde lived in; the Victorian era in the late 19th century. Wilde tried to show up the snobbish attitude in his society for the audience to laugh at. However despite the historical context being different, the concept of the two plays being based on the writer’s life at that time is similar. The genre of each play is different as in ‘Pack of Lies,’ it is a drama but ‘The
Importance of Being Earnest,’ is a comedy. The impact of each play towards the audience is entirely different. For example the audience at the end of, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ may take a look at themselves and try to change their ways, because the character’s in Oscar Wilde’s play are generally shallow. However in ‘Pack of Lies,’ the ending of the play which is very tragic, with Barbara dying and Helen and Peter sent to prison, which could make the audience think how lucky they are not to be in a situation where they can not trust anyone. There are many themes in both plays, but one theme which is in them both is, ‘Not who they seem.
In ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ no one is really who they seem as Algernon pretends to be Earnest, Jack calls himself Earnest without realising that it is actually his real name and even Cecily and Gwendolen reveal their true colours when they get angry, especially in the tea scene. In ‘Pack of Lies,’ some characters are portrayed to be not who they seem, but there are different reasons for the deceptions. The Krogers are definitely not who they seem In Barbara’s monologue, she feels that no one is who they seem, especially Mr Stewart who tells nobody anything..
The audience see the gradual demise of Barbara emotionally, as she becomes more surrounded by lies, because of the lies she is faced with and is forced to pretend by MI5 ; upstairs in her household.. Overall ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ and ‘Pack of Lies,’ both use the theme ‘Not who they seem,’ despite the different eras and the societies. ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is a social comedy that Oscar Wilde written, to gently mock the English upper classes of the society he lived in. For example the theme of the triviality of the upper class and the way in which they interact with one another, is ased on a social code, which Oscar Wilde uses as an advantage to be comical in his play.
For instance; Lady Bracknell is kind to Jack until she discovers his background. Gwendolen and Cecily are overly kind to one another until they find something upon which to disagree. Lady Bracknell is kind to Cecily when she discovers she has money. These examples show the complexities of each character and the many sides they show once they discover one’s status or wealth. The mood of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ is largely satirical.
This is because Wilde is seeking to mock the triviality of the upper class society of London. He often portrays lines that characters deliver as quite normal, for example when Gwendolen tells Ernest that she loves him because of his name. This, however, is quite ridiculous- making Gwendolen appear so. However ‘Pack of Lies,’ is about a family struggling with deception, lies and choosing between loyalty to their country or to their friends the Krogers, who are in fact Russian spies. The mood is very realistic and dramatic and compared to ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ is a lot darker.