Use Questions to Develop an Outline

Use Questions to Develop an Outline

I find that to really understand something, I must ask and answer questions.  This principle of inquiry holds true for me as I write also.  I can write with more confidence if I can work up a set of questions to be answered.  I discovered that questions could be the foundation of an outline for a paper or for something more formal such as a literature review and analysis. An outline provides structure and can serve as a roadmap and guide to the writer’s intention and the reader’s experience.  The writer can work and rework the structure to emphasize or diminish specific points.  Reworking an outline is much simpler than reworking a document.  The original questions can be restated as sentences in the final version of the paper.

Developing questions is not an easy task though. I have to think through what I know and what I need to know about the entire topic.  The first step might be to use a graphic organizer to understand what I already know.  For example, what do I already know about the American idea of tax supported K-12 education for all children?  As an American, the idea seems self evident; but how much do I really know about the practice?

The first set of questions can be descriptive.  I know or need to know: who, what, where, or when. Typically, these descriptive details can be the introduction. Then, what is the context for this topic? Why is the idea of universal pubic education for all children important?  What is the benefit or value of tax supported K-12 for all children?  Questions might arise about the historical, legal, and social context for K-12 education. Topics that seem most important can be included in the outline.  The outline ends with a section including a summary and the conclusions drawn from the discussion.

  The outline now looks like this:

1. Introduction

1.    Who developed the idea of K-12 education for all children in the United States?

2.    When and how did access to K-12 education for all children become the law in the United States?

3.    Where did K-12 education for all children begin?

4.    How is access to K-12 education for all children defined in the United States?

Thesis or purpose statement: In this paper, I will discuss the historical, social, and legal implications of free K-12 education for all children.

The next sections all related to the three areas identified as topics (history, social, and legal implications).

2. Topic: What is the historical context for tax supported K-12 education for all children

3. Topic: What is the legal context for tax supported K-12 education for all children

4.Topic: What is the social context for tax supported K-12 education for all children

5. Summary and conclusions

            Recap of topics 1, 2, 3

            Benefits and drawbacks      

In my hypothetical paper, I will give a brief overview of tax supported  K-12 education (introduction) and then explain the historical, legal, and social importance of access to K-12 education for all children (topics 1, 2 & 3). The final section will recap all the work I completed in a summary of conclusions and any new insights.  As you read and compare views across disciplines and across divisions of opinion, you may find an insight that is new for you and may be new for many others.  The insights come out of your synthesis of two previously oppositional ideas or out of your application of a metaphor to increase understandings.  The insights may be small, but new insights count as new knowledge and the relative size of the insight does not matter.  

By the way, public education for all children in the United States has not always been tax-supported. The puritans, who celebrated Thanksgiving in Massachusetts also passed the Old Deluder Satan Act in Massachusetts in 1647, requiring every town to provide a school so that all children could learn to read the Bible. The idea of public education did not really take root until midway through the 19th century, after which time, the practice quickly flourished.  Most of us are products of the open, public schools in the United States.  

About the Author



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Elizabeth Johnston
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