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2.2: Parts of the Essay, Outlining

This resource was written by Jaclyn M. Wells.
Last edited by Allen Brizee on March 23, 2009 .

Summary:
This resource covers the three-part organization of successful GED essays. The resource also covers outlining.

Lesson 2: Organizing the Essay

It is great to have many ideas to write about, but it is also important to organize those ideas in a logical way that your reader can understand. Without an effective organization, your essay can become confusing, and your main idea can get lost on the reader. Taking a few minutes to outline your essay before you begin writing will help you organize your ideas and group them effectively throughout your essay. This lesson explains the three major parts of the essay. The lesson provides tips for creating an outline with your main idea and subpoints. Lastly, the lesson explains how to use thesis statements and topic sentences.

The Three Parts of the Essay

Your essay will have three main parts:

1. Introduction: The introduction should be one paragraph. It should introduce the topic and main idea and preview the rest of your essay. The introduction will also include your thesis statement.

2. Body: The body is generally made up of three paragraphs. Each paragraph supports and develops (adds detail to) your main idea. To guide your reader, each body paragraph should begin with a clear topic sentence.

3. Conclusion: The conclusion is one paragraph. It summarizes the body paragraphs and concludes the essay.

Creating an Outline with a Main Idea and Subpoints

In Lesson 1, we discussed how to brainstorm ideas using idea maps and lists. We also discussed how to choose a main idea. It is most effective to select your main idea and subpoints before writing your essay because you can use your main idea and subpoints to make an outline.

Look back at the sample essay question and brainstorming methods from Lesson 1.

Sample Essay Topic

What is one important goal you would like to achieve in the next few years?

In your essay, identify that one goal and explain how you plan to achieve it. Use your personal observations, experience, and knowledge to support your essay.


From the example idea map and list in Lesson 1, it appeared that the main idea was getting a better job. The writer identified her main idea as follows:

An important goal I would like to achieve in the next few years is getting a better job.

The next step is to find subpoints that will support and develop this main idea. Again, we can look to the brainstorming methods this writer used to find possible subpoints. From her idea map and list, it was clear that other ideas the student writer listed--finishing school, learning a new language, preparing a resume, and searching for jobs--all connected to getting a better job.

The writer could choose finishing school, preparing a resume, and searching for jobs as her three subpoints, since each of these could be seen as steps to getting a better job. In other words, these three subpoints develop add detail to and support her main idea. Each body paragraph will focus on one of these subpoints.

Once you choose a main idea and three subpoints, it will be easier for you to create an outline for your essay. You do not need to spend a lot of time on this; you only have 45 minutes to plan, write, and proofread your work. Developing an outline will help you stay on track.

You know that you need to have an introduction and a conclusion—these will be the first and last paragraphs of your essay. What about the three paragraphs in between? How do you decide what order they should go in? Well, you have a number of options. A few of the most common options for ordering your body paragraphs are listed below.

In order of importance: You might feel like one of your subpoints is stronger than the other two, or even that one subpoint is most important, one least important, and one in between. If you are asked to argue something, it can be a good idea to put your subpoints in order of importance. You could begin with what you see as your weakest argument and then lead up to the strongest argument so that you drive home your main idea more and more with each paragraph. You can even use a signal phrase such as, “the most important reason,” when you get to your most important subpoint. Or you could frontload your most important idea to grab readers’ attention and persuade them early in the essay.

Chronologically: In some essays, you might find yourself describing a process and maybe even explaining the steps to something. If this is the case, you may choose to use a chronological order, meaning that you will focus on when things happen. If you use this organization, you can use signal phrases like “first, second, third” or “first, next, last” to guide your reader.

Compare and contrast:
Many GED essay prompts will ask you to compare, contrast, or both. To compare means to talk about the similarities and to contrast means to talk about differences. You can divide your paragraphs into similarities and differences, so that each paragraph discusses only one similarity or one difference. If you are discussing all similarities or all differences, you can use signal phrases like “another similarity” or “another difference.” If you are discussing both similarities and differences, you can use a signal phrase like “on the other hand” to show your move from comparison to contrast.

For the sample essay topic, a chronological method of organization might be an effective organizing strategy, since achieving a goal often involves a series of steps. An outline for the essay might look like this:

I. Introduction: states the main idea (getting a better job)
II. Body Paragraph: first, finish school
III. Body Paragraph: next, prepare resume
IV. Body Paragraph: finally, search for jobs
V. Conclusion

In sum, the goal is to choose a main idea and three subpoints that support and develop this main idea. Next, you want to choose an organization that you feel works best for your topic. Finally, it is a good idea to compose a short outline you can follow while writing your essay. Using the idea map and list you created in Lesson 1, practice choosing a main idea and three subpoints that develop and support it. Then, choose a method for ordering your subpoints and write an outline like the one above.

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