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  1. Create an informal list of topics to be covered in the essay.
    1. This list can be a list of words or short phrases which will be refined during the creation of the full outline.
    2. Try not to list subtopics at this point.
    3. Most short essays have at least three to five main topics plus the introduction and conclusion paragraphs.
  2. Take the topics from the informal list and use those as main topics (i.e., Roman numeral level).
    1. Rewrite the phrases from the informal list to be more complete so that the main topic is easily understood even when read a week or two later.
    2. You might need to add more topics or combine like topics as you develop the outline.
  3. Analyze each main topic, determining what information needs to be presented.
    1. At this point, start developing the subtopics for each main topic.
    2. Subtopics may include examples, logic/arguments, details/descriptions, and definitions of key terms.
  4. Sort your sources and research to see which topics/subtopics they fall under.
    1. As you decide what research to use, put the information into the outline as subtopics.
    2. Be sure to note the source of the information in your outline so you can easily cite the information in the essay.
  5. Review the outline, looking for logical ordering of the topics.
    1. Organization options include chronological, building on the previous point, least important to most important, or argument/counterargument.
    2. Consider adding transitional words or phrases as subtopics in each section to realize the overall flow of the essay.
  6. Rely on the outline while writing the essay.
    1. If new ideas develop during the writing process, try keeping track of those ideas in a separate document, and then add them after the initial draft is complete if they are still relevant.
    2. If you encounter writer’s block, refer to the outline to help initiate the writing process with your original ideas.
    3. Using an outline allows you to write paragraphs out of sequence, such as when research or ideas become available, and then piece the paragraphs together in the order dictated by the outline.