2.2: Parts of the Essay, Outlining
This resource was written by Jaclyn M. Wells.
Last edited by Allen Brizee on March 23, 2009 .
This resource covers the three-part organization of successful GED essays. The resource also covers outlining.
Lesson 2: Organizing the Essay
It is great to have many ideas to write about, but it is also important to organize those ideas in a logical way that your reader can understand. Without an effective organization, your essay can become confusing, and your main idea can get lost on the reader. Taking a few minutes to outline your essay before you begin writing will help you organize your ideas and group them effectively throughout your essay. This lesson explains the three major parts of the essay. The lesson provides tips for creating an outline with your main idea and subpoints. Lastly, the lesson explains how to use thesis statements and topic sentences.
The Three Parts of the Essay
Your essay will have three main parts:
1. Introduction: The introduction should be one paragraph. It should introduce the topic and main idea and preview the rest of your essay. The introduction will also include your thesis statement.
2. Body: The body is generally made up of three paragraphs. Each paragraph supports and develops (adds detail to) your main idea. To guide your reader, each body paragraph should begin with a clear topic sentence.
3. Conclusion: The conclusion is one paragraph. It summarizes the body paragraphs and concludes the essay.
Creating an Outline with a Main Idea and Subpoints
In Lesson 1, we discussed how to brainstorm ideas using idea maps and lists. We also discussed how to choose a main idea. It is most effective to select your main idea and subpoints before writing your essay because you can use your main idea and subpoints to make an outline.
Look back at the sample essay question and brainstorming methods from Lesson 1.
Sample Essay Topic
What is one important goal you would like to achieve in the next few years?
In your essay, identify that one goal and explain how you plan to achieve it. Use your personal observations, experience, and knowledge to support your essay.
From the example idea map and list in Lesson 1, it appeared that the main idea was getting a better job. The writer identified her main idea as follows:
An important goal I would like to achieve in the next few years is getting a better job.
The next step is to find subpoints that will support and develop this main idea. Again, we can look to the brainstorming methods this writer used to find possible subpoints. From her idea map and list, it was clear that other ideas the student writer listed--finishing school, learning a new language, preparing a resume, and searching for jobs--all connected to getting a better job.
The writer could choose finishing school, preparing a resume, and searching for jobs as her three subpoints, since each of these could be seen as steps to getting a better job. In other words, these three subpoints develop add detail to and support her main idea. Each body paragraph will focus on one of these subpoints.
Once you choose a main idea and three subpoints, it will be easier for you to create an outline for your essay. You do not need to spend a lot of time on this; you only have 45 minutes to plan, write, and proofread your work. Developing an outline will help you stay on track.
You know that you need to have an introduction and a conclusion—these will be the first and last paragraphs of your essay. What about the three paragraphs in between? How do you decide what order they should go in? Well, you have a number of options. A few of the most common options for ordering your body paragraphs are listed below.
In order of importance: You might feel like one of your subpoints is stronger than the other two, or even that one subpoint is most important, one least important, and one in between. If you are asked to argue something, it can be a good idea to put your subpoints in order of importance. You could begin with what you see as your weakest argument and then lead up to the strongest argument so that you drive home your main idea more and more with each paragraph. You can even use a signal phrase such as, “the most important reason,” when you get to your most important subpoint. Or you could frontload your most important idea to grab readers’ attention and persuade them early in the essay.
Chronologically: In some essays, you might find yourself describing a process and maybe even explaining the steps to something. If this is the case, you may choose to use a chronological order, meaning that you will focus on when things happen. If you use this organization, you can use signal phrases like “first, second, third” or “first, next, last” to guide your reader.
Compare and contrast: Many GED essay prompts will ask you to compare, contrast, or both. To compare means to talk about the similarities and to contrast means to talk about differences. You can divide your paragraphs into similarities and differences, so that each paragraph discusses only one similarity or one difference. If you are discussing all similarities or all differences, you can use signal phrases like “another similarity” or “another difference.” If you are discussing both similarities and differences, you can use a signal phrase like “on the other hand” to show your move from comparison to contrast.
For the sample essay topic, a chronological method of organization might be an effective organizing strategy, since achieving a goal often involves a series of steps. An outline for the essay might look like this:
I. Introduction: states the main idea (getting a better job)
II. Body Paragraph: first, finish school
III. Body Paragraph: next, prepare resume
IV. Body Paragraph: finally, search for jobs
In sum, the goal is to choose a main idea and three subpoints that support and develop this main idea. Next, you want to choose an organization that you feel works best for your topic. Finally, it is a good idea to compose a short outline you can follow while writing your essay. Using the idea map and list you created in Lesson 1, practice choosing a main idea and three subpoints that develop and support it. Then, choose a method for ordering your subpoints and write an outline like the one above.
Thesis Statement Guide Development Tool
Follow the steps below to formulate a thesis statement. All cells must contain text.
1. State your topic.
2. State your opinion/main idea about this topic.
This will form the heart of your thesis. An effective statement will
- express one major idea.
- name the topic and assert something specific about it.
- be a more specific statement than the topic statement above.
- take a stance on an issue about which reasonable people might disagree.
- state your position on or opinion about the issue.
3. Give the strongest reason or assertion that supports your opinion/main idea.
4. Give another strong reason or assertion that supports your opinion/main idea.
5. Give one more strong reason or assertion that supports your opinion/main idea.
6. Include an opposing viewpoint to your opinion/main idea, if applicable. This should be an argument for the opposing view that you admit has some merit, even if you do not agree with the overall viewpoint.
7. Provide a possible title for your essay.
Thesis Statement Guide Results
Thesis Statement Model #1: Sample Thesis Statement
Parents should regulate the amount of television their children watch.
Thesis Statement Model #2: Thesis with Concession
Notice that this model makes a concession by addressing an argument from the opposing viewpoint first, and then uses the phrase "even though" and states the writer's opinion/main idea as a rebuttal.
Even though television can be educational, parents should regulate the amount of television their children watch.
Thesis Statement Model #3: Thesis with Reasons
Here, the use of "because" reveals the reasons behind the writer's opinion/main idea.
parents should regulate the amount of television their children watch because it shortens children's attention spans, it inhibits social interaction, and it isn't always intellectually stimulating.
Thesis Statement Model #4: Thesis with Concession and Reasons
This model both makes a concession to opposing viewpoint and states the reasons/arguments for the writer's main idea.
While television can be educational, parents should regulate the amount of television their children watch because it inhibits social interaction, shortens children's attention spans, and isn't always intellectually stimulating.
Remember: These thesis statements are generated based on the answers provided on the form. Use the Thesis Statement Guide as many times as you like. Your ideas and the results are anonymous and confidential. When you build a thesis statement that works for you, ensure that it addresses the assignment. Finally, you may have to rewrite the thesis statement so that the spelling, grammar, and punctuation are correct.
Thesis Statement Guide: Sample Outline
Use the outline below, which is based on the five–paragraph essay model, when drafting a plan for your own essay. This is meant as a guide only, so we encourage you to revise it in a way that works best for you.
Start your introduction with an interesting "hook" to reel your reader in. An introduction can begin with a rhetorical question, a quotation, an anecdote, a concession, an interesting fact, or a question that will be answered in your paper. The idea is to begin broadly and gradually bring the reader closer to the main idea of the paper. At the end of the introduction, you will present your thesis statement. The thesis statement model used in this example is a thesis with reasons.
Even though television can be educational , parents should regulate the amount of television their children watch because it shortens children's attention spans, it inhibits social interaction, and it is not always intellectually stimulating
First, parents should regulate the amount of television their children watch because it shortens children's attention spans.
Notice that this Assertion is the first reason presented in the thesis statement. Remember that the thesis statement is a kind of "mapping tool" that helps you organize your ideas, and it helps your reader follow your argument. In this body paragraph, after the Assertion, include any evidence–a quotation, statistic, data–that supports this first point. Explain what the evidence means. Show the reader how this entire paragraph connects back to the thesis statement.
Additionally, it inhibits social interaction.
The first sentence of the second body paragraph should reflect an even stronger Assertion to support the thesis statement. Generally, the second point listed in the thesis statement should be developed here. Like with the previous paragraph, include any evidence–a quotation, statistic, data–that supports this point after the Assertion. Explain what the evidence means. Show the reader how this entire paragraph connects back to the thesis statement.
Finally, the most important reason parents should regulate the amount of television their children watch is it is not always intellectually stimulating.
Your strongest point should be revealed in the final body paragraph. Also, if it's appropriate, you can address and refute any opposing viewpoints to your thesis statement here. As always, include evidence–a quotation, statistic, data–that supports your strongest point. Explain what the evidence means. Show the reader how this entire paragraph connects back to the thesis statement.
Indeed, while television can be educational, parents should regulate the amount of television their children watch.
Rephrase your thesis statement in the first sentence of the conclusion. Instead of summarizing the points you just made, synthesize them. Show the reader how everything fits together. While you don't want to present new material here, you can echo the introduction, ask the reader questions, look to the future, or challenge your reader.
Remember: This outline is based on the five–paragraph model. Expand or condense it according to your particular assignment or the size of your opinion/main idea. Again, use the Thesis Statement Guide as many times as you like, until you reach a thesis statement and outline that works for you.