A Guide for Everyone Informal Outlining for Essays, Commentaries and Books
Brian Johnson, Ph.D.
Invite Your Readers to T.E.A.
How to use this sheet:
This sheet is to be used PRIOR TO WRITING THE ESSAY to help assist with essay planning and organization. While there are several ways to plan and outline an essay, one simple way to plan your essay is simply by organizing it according to TEA before your begin. This organizational system does not cover discussions of introductions, transitions between subordinate ideas and conclusions, which do not represent the substantive portions of an essay’s argument and are fairly easy to accomplish. However, it does cover the following substantive elements for persuasive academic essay writing:
(t)-TOPIC SENTENCES containing subordinated ideas in relation to the thesis statement E-primary EVIDENCE for support
A-the ANALYSIS of primary evidence in relation to the thesis statement
What is the basic structure of an essay according to TEA?
Thesis (Central Idea, Main Idea, Main Point, Opinion, Significant Idea, Interpretation, View Point, Narrative Point, Response to a writing prompt, etc.)
❑ Is There a Thesis? A THESIS STATEMENT is the controlling idea of any essay. It usually responds to an instructor’s writing prompt, examination question or a course-related topic. For most essays, the THESIS STATEMENT is expressed in 1-3 sentences or a separate THESIS paragraph. It expresses an arguable opinion. You should then proceed to use the entire essay— including TOPIC SENTENCES, EVIDENCE and ANALYSIS—to persuade the reader to the opinion that is expressed in the THESIS STATEMENT. For smaller essays the THESIS STATEMENT should be placed near the end of the introduction.
❑ Essay Prompts: An essay prompt is simply what the instructor is asking the student to respond to. The student’s response to the prompt will be the THESIS STATEMENT and its subsequent support comprises the essay. Even if the prompt contains several parts, it is possible to reduce the prompt to an essential question. Some instructors may have poorly constructed essay prompts. Nevertheless, it is your responsibility to craft an appropriate THESIS STATEMENT that responds to the prompt. (If uncertain, ask the instructor and carefully study the prompt before planning the essay.)
Sample Prompt: “Is the Virginia lottery beneficial or harmful to the citizens of Virginia? Why or Why not? Write a 5 page essay that supports your response.”
Sample Prompt: Consider Chaim Potok’s The Chosen, particularly Danny and Reb Saunders’ and Reuven and David Maulter’s struggle to discern the sons’ callings within and beyond their respective communities. After considering Potok’s depictions, what appears to be the single most important area to be discerned for helping
individuals to understand their unique (vocation) calling?
Claims and Reasons/Essay Maps: Until you become comfortable with creating specific and clear Thesis Statements, you might wish to create a THESIS STATEMENT using a CLAIM & REASON. An essay map uses the reasons that support the claim to guide or map the direction of the essay for the reader and the writer.
Claim- A claim would respond directly to the prompt by directly answering the question. Ex. The Virginia lottery is harmful…(Prompt 1)
Reason-A reason would tell why the Virginia lottery is harmful.
The reason is what will be supported with evidences and analysis throughout the essay. Ex. (because) it suggests that persistent hard work is unnecessary. (Prompt 1)
Map- An essay map are a group of reasons that will be reflected in supporting topic sentences, evidence and analysis.
Ex. (because) it suggests that education, ethics and social responsibility is only incidental to success in life. (Prompt 1)
Claim- Ex. Passion is the most important area of discernment that assists individuals with discerning their calling. (Prompt 2)
Reason-Ex. (because) it is tied to one’s innermost yearnings. (Prompt 2)
Map- Ex. (because) it is tied to one’s innermost yearnings, it continually arises in a variety of circumstances and it produces persistent motivation. (Prompt 2)
❑ Does my THESIS STATEMENT express one single central idea/opinion in response to the essay prompt or course-related topic? Can you fully support your thesis in the amount of pages required for the assignment? If it expresses more than one main idea, it is probably too broad for a short essay. In the essay map example, the entire THESIS STATEMENT is still considered to be a single idea. Note: The breadth of the essay’s main idea depends upon the scope and length of the assignment. You only have time and space to support one narrow and specific main idea in smaller essays and smaller papers.
❑ Have I arrived at a THESIS STATEMENT only after a careful and well thought out consideration of the prompt or topic and EVIDENCES at your disposal? In order to do this well, you should engage in extensive prewriting, deliberation, introspection and meditation about what your response to the prompt or topic. Discussion with peers and instructors about the idea you wish to convey is a useful way to arrive at your carefully crafted main idea. Crafting the final THESIS STATEMENT should be done only after having a clear idea about what you’re expressing.
❑ Does my THESIS STATEMENT express a fact? If the THESIS STATEMENT is an event or documentable fact that actually occurred or a statement that is obviously true, then your THESIS STATEMENT does not express a central idea/opinion.
❑ Is my THESIS STATEMENT too broad? Can I provide convincing support my THESIS STATEMENT in the required page-length? If your THESIS STATEMENT cannot be convincingly supported with facts/examples/evidence/details/text and analysis during the assigned scope and length for the essay, then your THESIS STATEMENT may be too broad. Specificity is key here for your THESIS STATEMENT may be appropriate for a 25 page essay but not for a 5 page essay.
❑ Is my THESIS STATEMENT clear and precise? This may be a question of style, mechanics or grammar. At any rate, the THESIS STATEMENT must “mean what you say and say what you mean.” You must take responsibility for the way your opinion is expressed in your THESIS STATEMENT. Since it is the controlling idea of the essay, your reader will hold you accountable for what is expressed here.
❑ Having expressed a narrow, clear and precise THESIS STATEMENT that responds appropriately to a prompt or topic, do I immediately begin to support my THESIS STATEMENT by providing subordinate ideas expressed in TOPIC SENTENCES, EVIDENC and ANALYSIS in the body paragraphs after the THESIS STATEMENT? Once the THESIS STATEMENT is stated, do not re state or summarize what has already been expressed. Proceed with the argument.
❑ Has my THESIS STATEMENT changed as a result of the evidence that I selected? If so, I need to change my thesis during the drafting process so that it fits the evidence selected for the essay. If you have not found convincing support for your thesis, then your essay will not be persuasive. In the planning and outlining stages, you should refer to your THESIS STATEMENT as a tentative THESIS STATEMENT.
Remember: The main goal of an essay is to support the Thesis statement with adequate primary Evidence and Analysis. The entire essay hinges upon the creation of a well conceived and clearly expressed Thesis Statement that responds to the writing prompt or topic.
——————————————————————————————————————————————– (t)opic Sentences (Subordinate Ideas, Development, Subclaims, Reasons, Lines of Argument, Supporting Arguments, Specific Issues)
❑ Do I have TOPIC SENTENCES? Topic sentences express subordinate ideas that advance, support, or develop the main idea expressed in the THESIS STATEMENT. To be sure, the first sentence of every paragraph located in the body of the essay do not function as a TOPIC SENTENCE. Some may continue providing EVIDENCE or ANALYSIS for a subordinate idea expressed in a previous TOPIC SENTENCE.
❑ Do my TOPIC SENTENCES correspond to the THESIS STATEMENT? All ideas contained within the essay should be within the scope of the essay’s controlling idea, the THESIS STATEMENT. This does not mean that the TOPIC SENTENCE cannot introduce a subordinate idea that opposes the THESIS STATEMENT or a preceding subordinate idea. Nevertheless, if the TOPIC SENTENCE introduces an opposing idea, the opposition should be directly related to argument you’re making.
❑ Do my TOPIC SENTENCES reflect main ideas instead of subordinate ideas? Remember, by definition subordinate ideas and sub-claims fall within the scope of the main idea. They should not rival the essay’s THESIS STATEMENT by expressing an altogether new main idea that would require an entire essay (not a body paragraph) to support. A subordinate idea should be supported in the course of only 2-3 paragraphs for smaller essays.
Evidence (Facts, Borrowed Quotations, Details, Statistics, Events, Support)
❑ Do I have primary EVIDENCE? Primary EVIDENCE simply means that these EVIDENCES will be the principal ones used to support the THESIS STATEMENT. To be sure, you may have additional pieces of EVIDENCE mentioned throughout your essay. These may be located in the introduction, conclusion TOPIC SENTENCES and ANALYSIS. However, before you begin, you should know what primary EVIDENCES will be supporting your THESIS STATEMENT.
❑ Have I selected specific primary EVIDENCES—textual references, facts, events, quotations, hypothetical examples, biographical information, biblical text, statistics, interviews, history or any other factual details designated by the writing prompt that directly support my thesis statement? Specific evidence is persuasive EVIDENCE.
❑ Are any of the details of my primary and specific EVIDENCES irrelevant? An essay expresses a single idea in its THESIS STATEMENT and the remainder of the essay serves to support the idea by using only relevant EVIDENCES. For example, if you are using a particular textual quotation or statistic as specific EVIDENCE, did you carefully select only those portions of the quotation or statistic that support your THESIS STATEMENT?
❑ Do I have enough EVIDENCE to support my thesis statement? Do you include enough textual support, historical support and secondary resources to convincingly make this claim?
❑ Does my EVIDENCE fulfill the requirements for the essay? Some instructors have particular guidelines about what types of EVIDENCE should be included as support for your essay. A convincing argument that does not use EVIDENCE adhering to the instructor’s guidelines or the writing prompt is an argument that does not follow instructions.
❑ Have I selected convincing and persuasive EVIDENCE? Will my EVIDENCES persuade my reader to the view expressed in my thesis statement? This is a matter of audience.
❑ Have I inserted opposing EVIDENCES or interpretive views of EVIDENCE (see ANALYSIS) to complicate my argument? Inserting opposing EVIDENCES show the reader that you’ve carefully considered what does not support your idea. This strengthens your THESIS STATEMENT because it demonstrates your own impartiality and objectivity when forming a carefully reasoned opinion.
❑ Have I organized the BODY of my essay in a way that allows me to analyze EVIDENCE in some logical ORDER? Sometimes EVIDENCE can be organized according to chronology or from strongest to least persuasive (or vice versa). The issue is that your EVIDENCE should be orderly presented. Are TOPIC SENTENCES and paragraph units arranged in such a way that it allows for proper division and discussion of EVIDENCE? TOPIC SENTENCES and paragraph units also assist with providing direction for the reader.
❑ Does each selected piece of primary EVIDENCE contribute to a different subordinate idea or sub claim expressed in distinct TOPIC SENTENCES, which develops support for my THESIS STATEMENT? Do I have strong development? Each piece of EVIDENCE that is discussed according to some logical paragraph division should substantiate a different idea to help advance the THESIS STATEMENT. The idea here is not to suggest that you might not have more than one primary EVIDENCE to make a single idea that helps to advance and substantiate your thesis. In fact, you may have two primary EVIDENCES that establish the same subordinate idea found in a TOPIC SENTENCE. It simply means that you should have a variety of primary EVIDENCES that will introduce different ways to support the same overarching controlling idea (Thesis Statements).
Remember: The main thrust of the BODY of the essay is not to simply fill your essay with plenty of EVIDENCE, but to explain why do the selected EVIDENCES support the THESIS STATEMENT. This is called ANALYSIS or interpretation of evidence. Analysis
What is an ANALYSIS? How do I analyze?
An ANALYSIS explains, interprets, or relates to the reader why a specific primary piece of EVIDENCE supports the thesis. An ANALYSIS needs to do this for each piece of primary
EVIDENCE. You do this by closely examining a specific piece of EVIDENCE and addressing its important and relevant parts, piece by piece, to explain why it supports the THESIS STATEMENT. You can do this for any piece of factual EVIDENCE including literary texts, statistics, interviews, speeches, personal experience etc.
——————————————————————————————————————————————– Thesis Statement: The Virginia lottery is harmful to Virginia youth because it suggests that persistent hard work is unnecessary in life.
(t)opic sentence: Myths about the value of money are often perpetuated through lotteries.
Specific Primary Evidence: A columnist in the Virginia Observer writes, “The Virginia lottery gives young people the false impression that money falls out of the sky.”
Analysis: The writer in this piece is right when she makes this suggestion. When Virginia youth grow up in an environment that supports gambling as an effort to gain money, it goes against American notions of hard work and diligence for success. Moreover, such a sentiment is not reasonable when you consider the odds of winning a lottery versus the odds of going on to college to become successful in a productive career.
——————————————————————————————————————————————– Thesis Statement: Passion is the most important area of discernment that helps individuals to discover their unique calling
(t)opic sentence: When one allows passion to assist in the discovery of one’s unique calling, an individual will discern the meaning of a heart-felt engagement, which is an important part of calling.
Specific Primary Evidence:
In the following passage, Danny expresses the distinction between monotonous study in comparison with study that excites the human passion:
I told you. I get bored studying just Talmud. And the English work in school isn’t too exciting. I think the English teachers are afraid of my father. They’re afraid they’ll lose their jobs if they say something too exciting or challenging. I don’t know. But it’s exciting being able to read all those books. (Potok 80)
Analysis: As we discover later, Danny’s heart-felt engagement with the books he was reading provided a useful clue about his desire to become a psychologist. Although Danny was knowledgeable about a great many subjects—including the Talmud—nothing produced the heart-felt engagement that those books recommended by Reuven’s father did. When Danny remarks that it is “exciting being able to read all those books,” he indicates that both his heart and head was engaged in it; thus, this gives the reader an indication that some vocational calling relating to these books (not the Talmud) would be Danny’s ultimate calling.
❑ Do I have an ANALYSIS for each piece of primary evidence? There is no particular rule about how to go about this. An ANALYSIS may be inserted alongside of the evidence. It may also be inserted after several primary EVIDENCES that substantiate the very same idea. Also, there is no limitation on how long the ANALYSIS should be. This discussion, interpretation or ANALYSIS of EVIDENCE can take one or two paragraphs to complete.
❑ Does my ANALYSIS go beyond merely re-stating what is obvious in the EVIDENCE? Although your ANALYSIS should not go beyond what can been plausibly deduced from your EVIDENCE, it should provide some insight that your reader has not previously considered about the EVIDENCE. This will help persuade your reader to thoughtfully consider the whole of your
argument. It demonstrates critical insight that gives the reader indication that your entire essay is probably a good one.
❑ Even for primary EVIDENCE that provides strong support for your THESIS STATEMENT, have you offered at least one brief opposing ANALYSIS that demonstrates to the reader that you are aware of other possible interpretations of the same EVIDENCE? You can provide the opposing view yourself or insert someone else’s opposing view. You need not do this for every primary
EVIDENCE but it should be found somewhere within your essay. This is a hallmark of critical and insightful thinking and argumentation. If your argument acknowledges (and withstands) opposing ANALYSES, then you have a sound argument. *Remember, an argument is not a proof, but providing adequate and convincing support for the opinion contained in the paper’s THESIS STATEMENT. ❑ During planning and outlining (even after the draft has been written), can I draw a clear arrow that starts from the ANALYSIS to the specific primary EVIDENCE, then to the subordinate idea found in the TOPIC SENTENCE—and finally—to the THESIS STATEMENT? This is an excellent way to inspect the logic of your argument before proceeding to write the essay.
Informal Outline: (The longer the piece, essay, article, dissertation or book developlsninto the paper, article or book length will determine the length of the outline. In other words you will need more (t)s-subordinate ideas for the length of the writing you are preparing T.E.A. For your audience). Once again this is for the substantive BODY OF YOUR WORK (not the Introduction or Conclusion). And this does not equate to pargraphs. An introduction can be as long or short as necessary for your writing project but it should contain the THESIS. Pargraphs in the body will depend on the length of your EVIDENCE AND ANALYSIS for each subordinate idea contain in the TOPIC SENTENCES.)
THESIS (Main idea, Point, Position, interpretation, Issue, Claim or Argument)
(t)-Topic Sentence containing subordinate idea to support Main idea in THESIS
(E)- EVIDENCE(s) Documented Research, Personal Verifiable Story, Facts, Statistics (cited for academic writing)
(A)-Analysis Interpretation and explanations of EVIDENCE on support of topic sentences containing supporting ideas including recognition of alternative views