how to write an essay

Sample Outline

The following is a sample outline one might write of an essay comparing the logical and rhetorical effectiveness of two contrasting texts. The Roman numerals refer to paragraphs ("I" is paragraph one, "II" is paragraph two, and so on).The bullets refer to points to be covered within that paragraph.

I. Introduction (150 words)

II. Personal Experience -- Collier's personal experience connects with audience.(200 words)

  • example of Collier's use of guardian experience
  • why personal experience is rhetorically strong (speaks to lay audience)
  • counterarguments to accusations of personal exp. being a hasty generalization
  • Fuentes' lack of personal experience in j. crime weakens her persuasiveness

III. Good Reasoning--Collier's argument rests on good reasoning overall (200 words)

  • Collier's "different juveniles need different system"--explain why this is sound.
  • Collier's "adult crime deserves adult time"--explain why this is sound.
  • examples of Fuentes' poor causal reasoning
    • adults don't necessarily reject youth due to having social security
    • adults don't necessarily resent youth because of job competition
    • zero tolerance policy is result, not cause, of increased j. violence
    • that adults think poorly of youth is not cause of increased j. violence

IV. Statistics -- Collier uses statistics in straightforward, easy to understand way (200 words)

  • examples of Colliers' straightforward use of statistics
  • examples of Fuentes' unclear, contradictory use of statistics (making issue fuzzy)
  • why manipulation of statistics endangers truth
  • comparison of statistics with actual Dept of Justice source

V. Authority -- Collier has authority from working in legal process (200 words)

  • explanation of Collier's authority (judge, gaurdian, law school background)
  • why authority is important for convincing the audience
  • counterargument to accusation of Collier's bias from authority (judges choose justice)
  • why Fuentes' background makes her lose authority through partiality to children

VI. Conclusion (50 words)

  • brief summary of main points (importance of personal experience, causal fallacies, use of statistics, credibility)
  • the need to guard against biases and predispositions when judging issues
  • tendencies to overlook evidence b/c of personal emotion; advice on overcoming it
  • memorable one-line quotation from supreme court justice about need to adjust laws to fit the changing people


Notice how each of the headers and bullets makes the point in a condensed, brief way. Also, each bulleted point develops the focus (in bold) of that paragraph. The four topics announced in the thesis are carried through in each paragraph. Finally, the entire outline fits on one page.



Tom Johnson. Last updated May 2004.