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Topical Outline for Research Papers

Often, as precursor to writing an essay, a teacher may ask for a topical outline. In some respects, a topical outline is exactly what it sounds like: an outline of the proposed paper, organized by topic. An outline must follow research, so that the writer is not blindly attempting to produce an outline and then forced into following the topics when constructing the essay.

Topical OutlineA topical outline is a blueprint of sorts for the final paper. In much the same way that architectural blueprints are, essentially, semi-detailed plans for the eventual construction of a building, guiding those who will do the construction, so too will a topical outline guide your writing. A topical outline allows the writer to organize research in a coherent and logical manner, without necessarily sitting down at a word processor and attempting to “bang out” an essay without prior thought. In architecture, building without plans can lead to crooked walls and corners that are not square. In writing, not having an outline to follow may lead a novice writer towards a disorganized, incoherent mess of a paper.

A topical outline can be a simple as short phrases and key terms, or as detailed as full sentences. The latter is often called a full-sentence outline, and many professors may require this detailed a level of topical outline in the writing process. Many word processing programs have tabs that help facilitate the level organizational headers required in a topical outline.

Outline Parts

  1. The introduction must list, in order, your attention-getter, credibility statement, purpose statement, and preview statement.
  2. The body must include 2–5 main points, each with supportive subpoints and perhaps even sub-subpoints, consisting mainly of documented examples, illustrations, statistics, quotations from experts, etc. that you have derived from the 3 or more expert sources that this project requires.
  3. The conclusion must include a summary statement and a concluding element that refocuses the audience’s attention on the main point.
  4. The Works Cited (MLA), Reference page (APA), or Bibliography (Turabian) page must properly credit your sources and must do so in the format prescribed by MLA, APA, or Turabian style to format.
    Document Your Sources Properly:
  5. In-Text and End-Page Citations: Whether you directly quote, summarize, or paraphrase it, any information that you present in your outline and in the speech itself must be explicitly attributed to the source from which you derived it. This requires you to use parenthetical citations or footnotes in the outline itself to show which information derives from which expert source. This also requires you to list the same sources on a Works Cited (MLA), Reference (APA), or Bibliography page (Turabian) in the format prescribed by the style manual for this project that you choose. Failure to cite sources is tantamount to plagiarism, a serious offense that can result in automatic failure of an assignment and possibly of the course.
  6. Use Direct Quotes Sparingly: If you include directly quoted material from another source in your outline, it must account for no more than 20 percent of the outline’s content.
  7. Offset Direct Quotes with Quotation Marks: You must place the directly quoted material inside double-quotation marks to make it clear that you are not claiming to be the originator of the quotation’s wording. Failure to use double-quotation marks to offset directly quoted material constitutes plagiarism is a serious academic offense that results in automatic failure of the assignment or automatic failure of the course (see the Liberty University Honor Code for more information about this).

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