Ted’s Handy-Dandy, Way-Too-Comprehensive Guide to Outlining Your Essay and Winning More or Less Every Argument You’ll Ever Have
I. Introduction: Name your topic, as well as the approach you’ll take (ex. “A Religious Approach to the Death Penalty”, “The Psychological Effects of Media Violence”)
a. Context: basic background information on the issue, as well as establishing relevance: what recent events have taken place that lend your issue a sense of immediacy (ex. “This year, the Supreme Court deemed the Defense of Marriage Act illegal,” “Recent protests over the mosque at Ground Zero have initiated an intense conversation…”)
b. Name the binary opposition
i. Case for the opposition: Give a specific name to the group who thinks differently than you, and deliver their POV in a concise and fair sentence (ex. “Democratic leaders have responded to the recent and very public mass shootings by calling for stricter gun control laws, citing the lax restrictions on semi-automatic weapons as the culprit.”)
ii. Case for your side: Give a frank and unbiased statement pitting the sides in contrast to each other (ex. “However, the NRA has combatted this claim by stating that ‘stricter gun control laws’ is merely a rhetorical way around breaking the second amendment.”)
c. Thesis statement: transition smoothly with a phrase bridging your thought from the previous sentence to this one, and then attach your thesis statement (ex. “Under these heightened tensions, it’s fair to ask: what’s more important, the safety of a stricter gun control policy, or the freedom to keep our legal right to bear arms?”)
a. Before entering into the argument, deliver some background information on your issue. Transition from the intro to here with a smooth transition phrase, like, “Because the issue is so complex, it’s probably helpful to figure out where and how it all began. The right to legal abortion began with the landmark case of Roe vs. Wade, however there were several cases before that, dating back to…” followed by your research.
b. Be concise and highlight only the historical moments relevant to your issue, i.e. if you’re writing about the psychological effects of media violence, begin with the first known psychological study and end with the most recent; do not discuss legalities and free speech laws and parental advisory ratings.
c. End with a leading question: Now that we’ve established that there is a legitimate controversy at the center of this issue, the question remains, (state a pointed, relevant question here) (ex. “But if race relations have been so heated for so long in America, why is there a growing chorus of people who deny racism exists any longer?”)
a. Name this side and begin to introduce their views (“One Million Moms, a vocal grassroots campaign, staunchly disagrees with the equation of the gay rights movement with the Civil Rights movement.”
b. Put your detailed research and well-cited quotes, facts, and figures here. This may be a few sentences, or a few paragraphs, but it will definitely be respected and concrete.
a. Again, transition properly out of the counter-argument, so that I know you’ve now shifted gears (you’ll sound like a schizophrenic if you don’t frame it properly). Say something to the effect of, “And while all of these seem like valid points on first glance, many of them turn out not to be true upon closer examination.”
i. Cite, point by point, the reasons for why whatever the opposition said in III is faulty, and why a reasonable person might make this mistake (ex. “The idea that welfare recipients should take drug tests before receiving their checks sounds like a sound idea to save the government money, until you find out that the policy instituted in Florida ended up costing the taxpayers $8 million, and that most of the recipients passed the test anyway.” Etc.
a. List all of your solid, comprehensive research to prove your argument right.
b. Transition out of this smoothly, by saying something like, “So if all of this is true, what should we do about it, and how do we specifically go about solving the problem?”
a. Offer a reasonable, pragmatic, and specific solution to the problem, even if the solution is something as simple as figuring out how to make the public more aware of your problem.
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