An outline is one of the most important tools you will use when writing your paper. An outline takes the ideas from your prewriting and organizes them into a logical order. An outline usually follows a sequence from your introduction through the body of your paper to your conclusion, creating a map for the general structure of your paper.

A general outline might look like this:


The outlining process organizes the major points and lets the writer see where there are gaps in support. After additional research, more information can be added to the outline. Once the outline is complete the writer will have a map for creating a first draft. If you have areas in your outline in which you have no ideas and support, you may need to do some background reading to fill in the gaps.

When creating an outline, it may be helpful to use a graphic organizer. UNO, The Universal Organizer, is available to download and can be used to organize your ideas in the form of a circle. The website also provides examples of how to use the tool.

Student Sample Paper

Outline for Sample Student Paper

Fire Control or Fire Prevention - Outline

Topic: What is the impact of traditional ecological knowledge on environmental management?
Working Thesis: The use of fire by native peoples to change ecosystems or portions thereof is almost universal.

I.    Dene in Northern Alberta

A.    Burning used to clear land, enhancing the growth of desired plants and encouraging the presence of animals (Turner, 1999)

1.    Carbon deposits in lake sediment, show that fire was shaping the landscape as soon as vegetation appeared after the most recent glacial period (Murphy, 1985)
2.    Pyne (2007) - before humans, fire relied on and shaped the plants and landscape as much as the landscape and plants relied on and shaped fire behaviour
3.    Series of concentric arcs of biotas and fire climate zones emanating in rings from the Hudson Bay (Pyne, 2007)

B.    The Boreal Forest

1.    95 percent of current boreal forest is actually regenerated forest - growing on what was at one point burned land (Slaughter & Richard, 1971)

a.    Made up of brush, muskeg, trees, and open grasslands

2.    The boreal forest regions - greater number of lightning strikes than other regions (Pyne, 2007)
3.    Aspen and birch are adapted to fire - - propagating with pinecones that release seeds when heated or by buried rhizomes (Fires of Spring, 1979)

C.    The Dene  - - removed combustible materials such as dead grass from around inhabited areas and burned specific regions around their hunting grounds (meadows where moose like to roam and lakes populated by muskrats) (Fires of Spring, 1979)

1.    Controlled burns in spring - - Greatest benefit from the fires.  Warms the land and induces earlier spring growth= a longer growing period for plants. Safer than burning in summer or fall when the land is dry (Fires of Spring, 1979)

a.    Early spring means herbivore animals settle into the area which attracts carnivores that prey upon the herbivores.

(1)    According to Natural Resources Canada (2009), "even though Canada has excellent systems for protecting forests from fire, it is impossible (and undesirable) to completely eliminate forest fires from many ecosystems" ("What have we learned?," para.1).  

(a)    Without forest fires - no new growth, no successive species and environment is unhealthy

II.    Kissi in Guinea

A.    Savannah grassland is an ecological zone prone to wildfires

1.    Wild fire affects the behaviour of grazing animals, altering foraging patterns as fresh growth becomes available in burned areas (Archibald, Bond, Stock, & Fairbanks, 2005)

a.    Researchers are just beginning to understand the role of humans in this ecosystem

B.    The Savannah

1.    Naturally occurring fires sweep through the savannah during the dry-season - high winds and heat.  

a.    Protection by managing soil conditions, creating barriers, removing combustible fuel (Second Nature, 1996)
b.    Remove grasses from the savannah (use the material for thatched roofs), and livestock feed on grassy areas around the village (Second Nature, 1996)
c.    Trees grow up in these protected areas near the villages,
d.    Grassland with small and widely-spaced light-loving tree species, changes to dense closed-canopy forests *Fire-resistant* (Second Nature, 1996)

(1)    promotes the "patchiness" of the savannah - - young trees that are most likely to survive wild fires are those closest to the protection of existing clumps of older trees (Hochberg, Menaut, & Gignoux, 1994)

III.    The Colonizers

A.    Early European - fire primarily as a destroyer (Murphy, 1985), same as French colonizers in Guinea (Fairhead & Leach, 1996)

1.    Now - “growing recognition that fire is a natural component of many forest ecosystems . . . and communities are encouraging many agencies to revise their traditional fire exclusion policies . . .as they gradually move towards leaving and putting more fire on the landscape to support natural fire-dependant ecosystem processes where there is little or no perceived threat to public safety, property, or forest resources” (Martell & Sun, 2008, "Introduction," para. 1).  
2.    20th century, officials in Canada perceived fire as undesirable - destroyed forests

a.    Human activity existed separate from forest ecosystem = basis for policy
b.    "An Act Respecting Forest Reserves" established the goal to "utilize the land for the production of timber and to so harvest the timber crop that a permanent supply may be contiguously maintained" (Murphy, 1985, p. 131) and use of fire rangers to protect these timber resources (Murphy, 1985).

(1)    Canadian government forest reserves in 1905 and 1906 - - Cypress Hills and Elk Island in Alberta (Murphy, 1985)

B.    French occupation of Guinea in 1893 - government policy makers presumed that the dense forest patches surrounding the villages in Kissidougou were the last remaining traces of an original forest that had once fully covered the landscape, and that the use of fire by the Kissi people was gradually destroying these forests (Second Nature, 1996).

1.    Forests are actually increasing

a.    villagers are creating them! (Second Nature, 1996)

2.    Policy makers blamed villagers for environmental mismanagement because of ignorance and to the evolution of the rural society in which they live (Fairhead &  Leach, 1996)
3.    Government policies have criminalized any aspects of land management employed by natives - setting bush fires carried the death penalty in the 1970s (Fairhead & Leach 1996)