English 102

From Topic Outline to Sentence Outline

Please take your topic outline and convert it to a sentence outline. This will constitute the core of your Preliminary Review of Research.

Remember that a topic outline lists words or phrases. A sentence outline lists complete sentences.

A topic outline arranges your ideas hierarchically (showing which are main and which are sub-points), in the sequence you want, and shows what you will talk about. As the name implies, it identifies all the little mini-topics that your paper will comprise, and shows how they relate.

A sentence outline does all of this, plus it shows exactly what you will say about each mini-topic. Each sentence, instead of simply identifying a mini-topic, is like a mini-thesis statement about that mini-topic. It expresses the specific and complete idea that that section of the paper will cover as part of proving the overall thesis.

Tip: Outlines can be very detailed or very general, but the more detail you have the farther you’ll get toward writing your paper. Here’s an example. A paper of 12 pages (about 4,500 words) might have four major topics or points, represented by roman numerals (I - IV) in the outline. This would mean each point would represent about three pages of the final paper. These three pages will include background information, multiple sources, different pieces of evidence and explanation supporting that point, and often a brief description of alternative views and an explanation of why those views are not so convincing. Smaller points supporting each of the main points might then take up a single page, or 2 - 3 paragraphs—again with evidence, explanation, alternative views and so on. Finally, even smaller points under these might correspond to individual paragraphs in the final draft.

You can view sample topic and sentence outlines at “How to Write an Outline” from Los Angeles Valley College. This will give you a good idea of the difference between the two, and how a sentence outline acts like a series of mini-theses. Also review “What is a Thesis” for more on the difference between a topic and a thesis.

Your sentence outline should, if done thoroughly and carefully, represent almost a first draft of your research paper. Once you’ve written it, the paper will practically write itself. You’ll just be filling in the blanks, so to speak—providing specific examples and other support to flesh out and prove the ideas you’ve already sketched out. The purpose, in other words, of doing this work is not to make work for you, but to save you work in the long run by breaking the job down into smaller, manageable tasks.