hands near computer writing a list

An Outline Within an Outline

How I prioritized topic headings for organization and clarity

I recently wrote a paper that examined changes in the forests through time at the town and state spatial scales.  I used a generic outline to guide me through the introduction, methods, results, and conclusion.  I soon found that I was struggling with the results section, however.  I had a lot of information.  I worried that the section was too lengthy, too hard to follow, and too fragmented.  How could I compare forests at different points in time and at different spatial scales without confusing my reader?  That was my challenge.

I realized that I needed an outline just for my results section.  I found a guide that the Sacred Heart University Library had created.  It suggested that I should present my findings in a concise and logical order, but more importantly, I should avoid using data that did not answer my research question.  I created an outline based on that advice.

I wrote my research question and then listed the variables I studied to answer that question.  Each variable became a topic heading.  Beneath each topic heading, I used subheadings to organize my data from each spatial scale.  I retained only the data that addressed each topic and spatial scale.  Creating the outline accomplished two things: 1) it organized my topics; and 2) it clarified what data directly addressed my topics and should therefore be presented in my results section.

I learned that even a short section of a research paper, like a results section, can benefit from an outline that guides its organization and clarity.  That outline was the organizational tool that helped me present my findings more clearly, orderly, and concisely.

Janine Marr headshot

Janine Marr
Virtual Writing Center Staff
Antioch University