Sentence Outlines

Benefits of writing a sentence outline.

  1. Clarity. If you can't write a clear sentence summarizing the paragraph's point, you certainly can't write a clear paragraph.
  2. Flow of argument. It is much easier to quickly judge whether the present order of paragraphs (as sentences in the outline) really makes the argument in the most effective way. You may be able to omit one or more paragraphs and still make your arguments.
  3. Efficiency. Revision of the plan of paper is much easier and quicker if you have only to delete or re-order sentences. Doing this on the completed draft involves much more work.
    1. Since a concept must be explained when it first appears, interchanging paragraphs will necessitate moving definitions.
    2. Paragraphs should smoothly flow into each other. Reordering paragraphs may necessitate extensive rewriting.
  4. Writing to length. With a sentence outline you can easily judge how long the manuscript will be and modify it to keep the essential material within the prescribed length.
  5. Time. All the above -- clarity, argument flow, efficency, length management -- can done faster using a sentence outline.

How to write a sentence outline

The outline should have the following form:

Abstract: The abstract contains a few, carefully written sentences summarizing the major points in the paper. It is followed by a list of (preferably numbered) sentences each of which summarizes the major point of a paragraph in the paper.
  1. Each sentence must be a sentence -- that is, it has a subject ("each sentence"), a verb ("must be"), and a complement ("a sentence").
  2. The sentence should be as specific as possible so that the main points/features of the paragraph are clear.
  3. Each sentence is the "topic sentence" of the paragraph and usually appears as the first sentence of the paragraph.
  4. If one numbered item contains two sentences, make sure you are not squeezing two paragraphs into one. For a paper of n double-spaced pages, there should be 2n to 3n paragraphs.
  5. The sentences should be organized to construct coherent arguments toward your paper's conclusions.
  6. There must an introductory paragraph that sets the paper in context; in this paragraph the topic sentence can be at the end.
  7. Generally, the next paragraph presents the principal results or conclusions to be presented in the text of the paper.
  8. The final paragraph should deftly summarize only the results defended in the body of the paper.
  9. The outline should be double spaced.
  10. For this course, you should include at the end the most important references you will use. These can be cited in individual sentences of the outline, if you want, in order to make clear where they are relevant.

Your comments and suggestions are appreciated.
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Sentence Outlines

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