Jay B The Introduction To An Essay

An outline presents a picture of the main ideas and the subsidiary ideas of a subject. Some typical uses of outlining might be an essay, a term paper, a book review, or a speech. For any of these, an outline will show a basic overview and important details. It's a good idea to make an outline for yourself even if it isn't required by your professor, as the process can help put your ideas in order.

Some professors will have specific requirements, like requiring the outline to be in sentence form or have a "Discussion" section. A student’s first responsibility, of course, is to follow the requirements of the particular assignment. What follows illustrates only the basics of outlining.

Basic outline form

The main ideas take Roman numerals (I, II, ...) and should be in all-caps. Sub-points under each main idea take capital letters (A, B, ...) and are indented. Sub-points under the capital letters, if any, take Arabic numerals (1, 2, ...) and are further indented. Sub-points under the numerals, if any, take lowercase letters (a, b, ...) and are even further indented.

  1. MAIN IDEA
    1. Subsidiary idea or supporting idea to I
    2. Subsidiary idea or supporting idea to I
      1. Subsidiary idea to B
      2. Subsidiary idea to B
        1. Subsidiary idea to 2
        2. Subsidiary idea to 2
  2. MAIN IDEA
    1. Subsidiary or supporting idea to II
    2. Subsidiary idea to II
    3. Subsidiary idea to II
  3. MAIN IDEA

It is up to the writer to decide on how many main ideas and supporting ideas adequately describe the subject. However, traditional form dictates that if there is a I in the outline, there has to be a II; if there is an A, there has to be a B; and so forth.

Outline example

Suppose you are outlining a speech about gerrymandering, and these are some of the ideas you feel should be included: voter discrimination, "majority-minority" districts, the history of the term, and several Supreme Court cases.

To put these ideas into outline form, decide first on the main encompassing ideas. These might be: I. History of the term, II. Redistricting process, III. Racial aspects, IV. Current events.

Next, decide where the rest of the important ideas fit in. Are they part of the redistricting process, or do they belong under racial aspects? The complete outline might look like this:

Gerrymandering in the U.S.

  1. HISTORY OF THE TERM
  2. REDISTRICTING PROCESS
    1. Responsibility of state legislatures
    2. Census data
    3. Preclearance
    4. Partisan approaches
  3. RACIAL ASPECTS
    1. Gomillion v. Lightfoot (1960)
    2. Civil rights
      1. Voter discrimination
      2. Voting Rights Act (1965)
      3. Majority-minority districts
  4. CURRENT EVENTS
    1. Effects of gerrymandering in 2012 and 2016 elections
    2. Gill v. Whitford Supreme Court Case

It is only possible to make an outline if you have familiarity with the subject. As you do research, you may find it necessary to add, subtract or change the position of various ideas. If you change your outline, ensure that logical relationship among ideas is preserved.

Helpful resources

To gain an initial familiarity with your topic, look it up in Gale Virtual Reference Library (a.k.a. "Academic Wikipedia"), a collection of entries from specialized encyclopedias. GVRL provides topic overviews, many of which are organized with an outline themselves.

Further reading

Tardiff, E., and Brizee, A. (2013). Developing an outline. In Purdue OWL. Look at all three sections. The third includes an example.

Lester, J.D., and Lester, Jr., J.D. (2010). Writing research papers: A complete guide (13th ed.). New York: Longman. Includes several models, including for a general-purpose academic paper. Check it out from the Stacks LB2369 .L4 2010.

Turabian, K.L. (2013). A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Request John Jay's copy from the Reference Desk (call number LB2369 .T8 2013).


Created by J. Dunham, 2003. Revised by R. Davis, Oct. 2017.

The American Historical Review

Description:The American Historical Review (AHR) is the official publication of the American Historical Association (AHA). The AHA was founded in 1884 and chartered by Congress in 1889 to serve the interests of the entire discipline of history. Aligning with the AHA’s mission, the AHR has been the journal of record for the historical profession in the United States since 1895—the only journal that brings together scholarship from every major field of historical study. The AHR is unparalleled in its efforts to choose articles that are new in content and interpretation and that make a contribution to historical knowledge. The journal also publishes approximately one thousand book reviews per year, surveying and reporting the most important contemporary historical scholarship in the discipline.

Coverage: 1895-2012 (Vol. 1, No. 1 - Vol. 117, No. 5)

Moving Wall: 5 years (What is the moving wall?)

The "moving wall" represents the time period between the last issue available in JSTOR and the most recently published issue of a journal. Moving walls are generally represented in years. In rare instances, a publisher has elected to have a "zero" moving wall, so their current issues are available in JSTOR shortly after publication.
Note: In calculating the moving wall, the current year is not counted.
For example, if the current year is 2008 and a journal has a 5 year moving wall, articles from the year 2002 are available.

Terms Related to the Moving Wall
Fixed walls: Journals with no new volumes being added to the archive.
Absorbed: Journals that are combined with another title.
Complete: Journals that are no longer published or that have been combined with another title.

ISSN: 00028762

EISSN: 19375239

Subjects: History, American Studies, History, Area Studies

Collections: Arts & Sciences I Collection, JSTOR Essential Collection

Categories: 1

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