Paper Outline Workshop


Students learn to construct a persuasive argument by brainstorming multiple ways to structure their final research paper using post-its, large pieces of paper, or whatever other materials students like. They organize and re-arrange primary sources in a low-pressure environment to generate multiple logical flows for their papers.

Introduction: The Paper Outline Structure Workshop is introduced towards the end of the semester as students are starting to write a final research paper. This assignment was given as part of a class focused on teaching students how to approach a research project. Previously, students had spent time reading primary and secondary sources to generate a commented list of sources, or annotated bibliography. This activity was then used to help students organize sources and construct the strongest logical flow for their research paper.


  • Help students organize primary sources into an effective argument
  • Help students overcome anxiety of “getting it right the first time” when it comes to organizing and writing a research paper
  • Use brainstorming and a low-stress environment to encourage creativity in the writing process

Procedure - Before Class:

The instructor created a list of questions and generated a handout that would be given to students during the activity. Questions were meant to prompt students thinking (see below for list of questions). Additionally, the instructor collected arts and crafts supplies such as multiple colors of post-it notes, large pieces of paper, scrap paper, and markers.
Before this assignment was given, students had already spent time reading and collecting primary and secondary sources. Students were expected to come to class with a list of sources on which they had taken notes.

Procedure - During Class: To begin the activity, the instructor had students write down their sources on different post-it notes. They were then told they would be making several different outline versions. As the students worked through the steps below, the instructor rotated around the class answering questions and encouraging lively discussion.

Step One (15 min): The students were instructed to “Use sticky notes, notecards, or giant pieces of paper to map out the major sections of the argument. Include all primary and secondary sources. Arrange these in an order that you think will make for a logical and persuasive argument.”

Step Two (10 min): After making the first outline, students are instructed to make a second outline. “Challenge yourself to come up with as radically different an outline as possible. Reorder the sections of your paper, present background information in a different place, or group primary evidence and secondary sources differently.”

Step Three (10 min): Using the two outlines above, students then work through the prepared worksheet. The questions were:

  1. Can you break up your overall thesis into smaller, incremental claims?
  2. Do any of these smaller claims depend on each other? If so, in what order will you need to present them?
  3. Will you present your evidence in chronological/geographical/some other order? If you do not present your evidence in this way, will it confuse the reader?
  4. What information does your reader need up front (theoretical framework, historical context, description of key evidence)?
  5. Will you present background information, such as historical context, up front or introduce it as needed in different sections of your paper?
  6. Will you have a consolidated literature review, or will you address the arguments of other scholars as they come up during your paper?
  7. Do either of the two outlines address certain issues more effectively?

Step 4 (10 min): Next students use elements from Outline 1 and Outline 2 to create a final Outline 3.

Procedure - After Class: After making Outline 3, students shared their outlines and discussed which Outline would make the most effective research paper. They then hand in their final outline of choice for feedback.

Materials: Students require arts and crafts supplies such as post-it, large pieces of paper, tape, and markers.

workshop_final_paper_outlines_handout_schultz.pdf39 KB