Advanced Writing for the College-Bound

Bruce A. McMenomy, Ph.D. for Scholars Online
2010-11: Thursday 9:00 AM to 10:30 AM Eastern Time

Unit 0:
A Preliminary Assessment

Unit 1:
The Right Question

Unit 2:
Purpose and Audience

Unit 3:
Getting Ideas

Unit 4:

Unit 5:

Unit 6:

Unit 7:
Supporting Your Claim

Unit 8:
Bad Reasoning

Unit 9:
Forestalling Counter-Arguments

Unit 10:
Research and Documentation

Unit 11:
Organizing: Overview

Unit 12:

Unit 13:

Unit 14:

Unit 15:
Beginnings and Endings

Unit 16:

Unit 13: Outlining

In the treatise which we propose, then, the first order of business is to grasp the relationship of the earth taken as a whole to the heavens taken as a whole. In the treatment of the individual aspects which follows, we must first discuss the position of the ecliptic and the regions of our part of the inhabited world and also the features differentiating each from the others due to the varying latitude at each horizon taken in order. For if the theory of these matters is treated first it will make examination of the rest easier. Secondly, we have to go through the motion of the sun and of the moon, and the phenomena accompanying these motions; for it would be impossible to examine the theory of the stars thoroughly without first having a grasp of these matters. Our final task in this way of approach is the theory of the stars. Here too it would be appropriate to deal first with the sphere of the so-called ‘fixed stars’, and follow that by treating the five ‘plantets’, as they are called. We shall try to provide proofs in all of these topics by using as starting-points and foundations, as it were, for our search the obvious phenomena, and those observations by the ancients and in our own times which are reliable. We shall attach the subsequent structure of ideas to this foundation by means of proofs using geometrical methods.

— Claudius Ptolemy, tr. G. J. Toomer, The Almagest (c. 150 A.D) Book I


The essay skill for this cycle is writing an outline. While we have done a lot of similar activities, we have not yet written formal outlines as part of our exercises.

main points for this unit

There are several outline styles, and your word processor may give you one or more style options. A typical outline has a format like this:

I. Phrases
    A. definition of phrase
    B. types of phrases
        1. noun phrases
        2. verb phrases
        3. prepositional phrases
        4. miscellaneous phrases like appositives
    C. special punctuation
II. Clauses
    A. clause definition
    B. types of clauses
        1. independent clause
        2. dependent clause
            a. subordinating words
            b. adverb clauses
                i. temporal clauses
                ii. causal clauses
                iii. result clauses
                iv. purpose clauses
            c. adjective clauses
           d. noun clauses
III. Assignment considerations

There are a number of arbitrary rules involved in old-school outlining, and we aren’t going to bother with most of them. For example, classically, an outline was to contain no verbs. Frankly, I don’t care whether it does or not. On the other hand, it was conventional that an outline should never have just one sub-heading under a given header. That is, there should be no A without at least a B, no 1 without a 2, and so forth. There is a good reason for this. The point of the outline is to break the subject down into parts, and to break those down further. If you break something down into only one part, you aren’t breaking it down at all. (If you’re only dividing by one, in other words, you might as well not write the denominator.)

It doesn’t matter how many spaces you indent, but in general adhere to this form, since it’s conventional and well-understood. The important point about an outline is that it should serve as a clear indication of the organization of the content of your essay. Each main point should be clearly related to the thesis of the essay, and each subordinate point should support the main point that is the next step up in the hierarchy.

Don’t, in particular, be tempted to write a procedural outline, which is really only a note on the structure of your paper. It’s not grappling with the material you’ve set out to write about. That’s what you need to be doing. Here’s a procedural outline:

Thesis statement.
I. Introduction
    A. Define terms
    B. Thesis statement
II. First point
    A. Definition
    B. Example
III. Second point
    A. Definition
    B. Example
IV. Conclusion

What’s wrong with it? Nothing, as a description of the process — but you don’t want a description of the process. You want the skeleton of your actual paper. This kind of outline, charming and generic as it is, really doesn’t say anything about the subject of the essay. This could be an outline about biochemistry, historical fiction, or music theory. That is not your point. When you write an outline for a class, you want to prepare your material for orderly delivery. It’s not just about having the crates on the shipping dock: there has to be something in the crates as well. Compare the substance outline:

Different errors in sentence structure confuse readers.
I. Faulty sentence structure presents various forms.
    A. Too many ideas crowd into run-on sentences
    B. Incomplete ideas presented as fragments
II. Run-on sentences
    A. Basic types
       1. Spliced sentences
       2. Fused sentences
    B. Ways to fix run-on sentences
        1. Split into two or more sentences
        2. Separate with colon or semicolon
        3. Separate with comma and coordinating conjunction
III. Fragmentary setnences
    A. Phrases and clauses that cannot stand on their own
        1. Subordinate clauses
        2. Participial phrases
        3. Infinitive phrases
        4. Prepositional phrases
    B. Ways to fix fragmentary sentences.
        1. Check for subject
        2. Check for main verb
        3. Fold dependent structures in with a main clause
IV. Clarity of expression depends on complete, discrete thoughts
    A. Ensuring proper sentence structure depends on completeness of thought
        1. Look for problems
        2. Identify types of problem
        3. Fix problem
    B. Results are more comprehensible and convincing essays.

Those who are familiar with the song “The Title of the Song”, or the popular generic “Trailer For Every Oscar-Winning Movie Ever” on YouTube will readily appreciate the difference between the procedural outline and the content outline.


  1. For each subject below, write a concise thesis statement that addresses the topic of the essay question and clearly states the main point of your essay. Make sure your thesis statement provides a single unifying framework for all your points.
  2. Spend no more than five minutes per subject brainstorming. Write down all ideas on the topic, no matter how silly.
  3. Spend no more than five minutes per subject writing a content-specific outline for the question. Follow the I/A/1/a/i, etc. format shown above. Make sure not to have a I without a II, an A without a B, etc., as well.
  4. Choose one of the subjects and spend no more than ten minutes writing an essay on the subject, based on the outline you have written. (Total time for the essay will be less than twenty minutes, about right for an exam question.)

  1. What is a hero? The examples you use may come from your personal experience, literature, history, current events, or the popular media.
  2. Compare and contrast your most favorite and least favorite foods, explaining why you like or dislike each dish.
  3. The most important personal trait to have is ______________ (make your own choice; you could chose charity, faith, integrity, honesty, etc.)
  4. Choose a subject from one of your other classes.