Sample Detailed Outline


"Organize. Organize. Organize." —U.S. Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Al Gore


Below is an example of a detailed outline. (It is for a research paper, but the principles and structure apply to any paper.) Notice the hierarchical use of the roman numeral system. Such a hierarchy is key to organizing your thinking and your argument and keeping track of the relationships between your ideas.

  1. Introduction

    1. quote from movie like Independence Day to get readers’ attention SOURCE:

    2. world preparing to welcome with festivities and open arms the aliens coming to Earth from Andromeda galaxy

    3. Thesis (complete sentence!): Although the aliens seem friendly and say they come in peace, Earth’s number one priority should be to build a defense shield before they arrive.

  2. History

    1. On March 15, 2016, we discovered not alone in universe: irregular but repeating signal discovered from nearby Andromeda. SOURCE: NYTimes, 3/16/16

    2. Different scientists have decoded the message differently

      1. Commonly accepted interpretation friendly:

        1. “Greetings, people of Earth. We have detected and watched your reports (e.g., The Big Bang Theory) documenting typical life on Earth. We are currently on our way to Earth to begin our friendship and will arrive in Earth year 2020. Prepare yourselves for a glorious future [unclear signals].” (SOURCE: Michaels, “Aliens Are Our Friends,” People)

    3. still parts of the message undecoded (SOURCE?

    4. all scientists agree: Aliens arriving in 2020 (Source: Fredericks, Wall Street Journal)

  3. Argument: there are signs that message is a warning and that aliens are planning to attack

    1. Prof. Alan Guthman, Harvard Center for Astrophysics, makes case (SOURCE: Guthman, “We Do Not Come in Peace”)

      1. With only one message to work with, we have little clue of tone of message

      2. If we interpret three different patterns in signal differently, tone much different: “Attention, Earthlings. We have observed your unusual lives. We are coming to Earth to…[unclear]. Prepare yourselves for life under our control.”

      3. With all the videos we broadcast into space, an alien race would assume that we are hostile and act accordingly

    2. Logic: Even if these aliens are friendly, it is better to be safe than sorry and protect ourselves

      1. FIND: Estimates of the number of intelligent races in the nearby universe and the probability that at least one of them is hostile and technologically advanced

  4. Argument: Estimates show that workable shield surrounding Earth can be constructed by 2020

    1. If nations of Earth collaborate, we can build shield that will block incoming ships and weapons fire (SOURCE. Teller, “Shielding the Earth,” Physics Rev. Letters)

    2. Will cost huge amounts of $$, but:

      1. if spread out among many countries, affordable FIND. Estimates of costs

      2. We can’t afford NOT to build it

  5. Argument: Building shield will both stimulate global economy and result in very useful new technologies

    1. FIND! Evidence on how previous projects—moon landing, the International Space Station, emergency stimulus packages—created

      1. jobs –find stats!

      2. new products & companies

      3. FIND! I don’t have concrete evidence for this, but I remember hearing how the moon landing and international space station resulted in the creation of new, useful technologies

  6. Counterargument: If we build shield and they detect it, it could signal that we are hostile and provoke the aliens to attack

    1. Missile defense shields on Earth have often provoked international tensions. SOURCE: M. Pritchard, “If You Build It, They Will Attack.” (Boston Globe)

    2. FIND source that shows that

      1. such tensions do not necessarily lead to attack and

      2. any intelligent race will understand need for others to be prepared to defend themselves.

  7. Counterargument: We are probably not able to build shield that would work against such a technologically advanced race

    1. non-sequitor. fact that it may not work does not mean that it won’t and that we should not try to protect ourselves.

  8. Conclusion.

    1. We have no way of knowing the intensions of a group we have never met on the basis of one message.

    2. The only sensible approach is to try to defend ourselves, especially when there will be benefits for trying such as jobs and new technologies.

    3. As I learned in Las Vegas, “Never risk what you cannot afford to lose.” Can we afford to risk our children’s lives?

Click here to create a detailed outline from your freewrite/brainstorm using GoogleDocs.