Getting It Done

By Eva Dunsky

An outline template for you and yours. Patent pending.

The advice to outline before writing gets repeated for a reason: an outline can help organize your research, structure your thoughts, and allow you to notice connections between ideas that you might not have noticed otherwise. It can also help you land on a structure and flow for your paper that will make sense to an outside reader, which is a difficult thing to get the hang of. Finally, it can help you avoid some of the anxiety-inducing messiness of a long and unorganized first draft.

That said: outline only if it makes sense to you. Embrace the mess if it makes sense to you. Do some mixture of the two if that’s what floats your boat. Writing is hard enough, and so much of learning to write well is about trial and error—you have to keep revising and reflecting on your process until you figure out what serves you. Luckily you have four years and countless essay assignments to figure it out.

Okay, enough provisos. Assuming you do want to outline, where should you start? What should be included in the outline? 

Alright, I lied, one more proviso: what makes sense to include will vary from writer to writer and assignment to assignment. Again, learning to write is an iterative process, meaning you have to continuously return to the page and make small tweaks until you feel you’ve achieved what you set out to do (or come up against your deadline: I see you, procrastinators).

That said, there are a few things I suggest including in each outline:


Necessary Context: As you begin your paper, you might want to consider what your reader needs to know upfront to understand your topic and/or research question. It might sound insultingly obvious, but the best way to structure a paper is to put yourself in the reader’s shoes: what context does the reader absolutely need to have right away? Be judicious here, as many novice writers end up with too much context and not enough analysis. 

Research Question/Thesis: This can be thought about in two ways.If you’re writing a research paper, I suggest trying to articulate your research question using the schema provided by Booth, Colomb and Williams in their book The Craft of Research: I am studying __________ to figure out __________ to help my reader understand ___________. Fill in the blanks with your research topic, your research question, and the expected implications/findings of that research. If you’re writing a critical analysis, you can use this section to state the thesis (remember: it should be a debatable claim that a reasonable person could disagree with) that you’ll go on to argue.

Body Paragraphs

Main idea: What is this section/paragraph meant to say? You can express this in your own words and/or by using citations. You can use the subpoints for further analysis.

Purpose of Paragraph: What is this section/paragraph meant to do? This can be tricky to articulate, but you should be able to discern a purpose for each paragraph. Practice by distilling the articles, papers, and journalism you read for class: what is each paragraph saying, and what is each paragraph doing? In other words, how are your paragraphs building on/expanding/complicating the paragraphs that preceded them, and how are they linked to the paragraphs that will follow?

Transition Sentences: I find this more useful as a concept than topic sentences. Rather than trying to sum up all the paragraph’s ideas in one sentence, consider how you can create a sense of continuity for your reader by looking at the last sentence of the preceding paragraph and the first sentence of the new paragraph. How are they related? Have you articulated that connection clearly to your reader? Consider using transition words that illustrate relationships between ideas such as for example, although, however, in addition, because, etc. (more transition words here).


Conclusion: Conclusions are tricky. We know not to simply repeat what we wrote in the introduction and body of the essay, but if we aren’t repeating ourselves, then what to include? I suggest a few different ways to leave your reader with something new to ponder at the end of your paper below.

Keep in mind that these aren’t the only things you can include in an outline—what you include will vary (are you sensing a theme yet?) according to the needs of your project.

Here’s the outline template in full:

    A. Necessary Context 
    B. Research Question/Thesis

    A. Potential transition sentence: To answer this question, we first have to consider __________
    B. Main idea
       a. subpoints
       b. subpoints
       c. subpoints
    C. Purpose of Paragraph
    A. Transition Sentence that relates the ideas in this paragraph to the ideas you’ve mentioned previously
    B. Main idea
       a. subpoints
       b. subpoints
       c. subpoints
    C. Purpose of Paragraph
    A. Transition Sentence that relates the ideas in this paragraph to the ideas you’ve mentioned 	previously
    B. Main idea
       a. subpoints
       b. subpoints
       c. subpoints
    C. Purpose of Paragraph
    A. Transition Sentence that relates the ideas in this paragraph to the ideas you’ve mentioned previously
    B. Main idea
       a. subpoints
       b. subpoints
       c. subpoints
    C. Purpose of Paragraph
VI. Conclusion
    A. Transition Sentence that relates the ideas in this paragraph to the ideas you’ve mentioned 	previously
    B. What claims can you make based on your research?
    C. What are the implications of your research (why is it important?)
    D. Looking forward: what further questions might we continue asking about the topic?
    E. How has your understanding of the topic changed?

Happy outlining!

March 30: Previsioning and Outlining

Join us next Wednesday, March 30 from 6–7 p.m. on Zoom for our Writing Center Workshop on Previsioning and Outlining! We’re excited to discuss strategies for planning a paper with students! Register to attend here:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Writing Center Spring Workshop Series

Need help getting started on a paper? Want to strengthen your claim? Thinking through the structure of your argument? The Writing Center is here to help! We are excited to host a semester-long series of workshops designed to strengthen students’ writing skills and strategies. Each workshop, hosted by tutors from the Rose Hill and Lincoln Center Writing Centers, will take place from 6–7 p.m. on Zoom. Dates and topics of each workshop are listed below, with registration links embedded.

Monday, February 28: Paragraph Structure

Thursday, March 3: Citation and Quotation Integration

Wednesday, March 30: Previsioning and Outlining

Tuesday, April 12: Claims and Topic Sentences

Tuesday, April 26: Entering Academic Conversations

Note that registration is required.

If you have any questions, please direct them to

Writing Center Workshop II: Paragraph Structure

Needing some motivation to work on a paper? Struggling to get your ideas in order? Wondering how to get your essay to “flow?” The Writing Centers at Rose Hill and Lincoln Center are here to help! On Wednesday, November 17 at 5 p.m., we will be offering an hour-long workshop on paragraph structure. This workshop will teach attendees how to craft paragraphs with clear main ideas and smooth transitions. The workshop will take place over Zoom, and all students are welcome.

Register in advance for “Paragraph Structure:”

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

If you have any questions about the workshop, send us an email at

Writing Center Workshop I: The Rhetoric of Citation

Need some motivation to work on a paper? Questions about the writing process? The Writing Centers at Rose Hill and Lincoln Center are here to help! We will host three joint workshops this fall for Fordham students. These workshops, which will happen virtually and to which all students are welcome, are an excellent opportunity for students to hone their writing skills and focus on particular rhetorical techniques. Tutors offer specialized instruction and provide a space for students to address what they learn in the workshop in their writing.

The schedule for the workshops is as follows:

Thursday, October 28 at 5 p.m.: “The Rhetoric of Citation”

Wednesday, November 17 at 5 p.m.: “Paragraph Structure”

Tuesday, November 30 at 5 p.m.: “Crafting Introductions and Conclusions”

Register in advance for “The Rhetoric of Citation:”

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

If you have any questions about the workshops, send us an email at

Common Issues and How to Solve Them

You read over your paper after it is declared finished, and things simply aren’t sitting right for you. You read through it once. That wasn’t satisfying, so you read through it twice, and you wonder, “Why do I feel like something is missing?” Writing an essay, creative or otherwise, is difficult and requires devoted attention to detail. In my study of Creative Writing, I have learned many different troubleshooting techniques to help me make my work the best that it can be.

If I am writing creatively and I feel like something is missing from my draft, I look at the main problem driving the plot. Sometimes, the plot has holes, or inconsistencies that I built into my own work by accident. This can include many things, but the one I confront most frequently is in my worldbuilding; it has happened all too often that I have written an event taking place that does not make sense when abiding by the rules that I built for my fictional universe.

The skill I developed to identify plot holes has helped me notice inconsistent elements in my academic papers. For me, the thesis of my essay is like the plot of a creative narrative. The thesis is the backbone of the paper, and if I feel like an academic essay is lacking, the first thing I check is the thesis.

If the thesis, as it is written, does not ideologically encompass all the elements in the essay, the essay has a plot hole that needs to be mended. To remedy this issue, it might be helpful to try examining the conclusion. Since the conclusion is a summary of all the argumentative points in the paper, it is common to find the full thesis statement lurking around in the conclusion somewhere. Once you find the unabridged thesis, you can move it back up to the introduction. 

When I am creative writing, I reread my story after fixing a plot hole, and sometimes I am still unsatisfied with my work. Next, I check to make sure my narrative events are occurring in the proper sequence. Sometimes, by oversight, a character is acting on information that they never officially learned. This skill for identifying temporal inconsistencies has been immensely helpful in my academic writing.

Logically, the flow of ideas in a paper should come in a particular order. In a typical argument, a claim is made and then supported by evidence. The significance of the evidence is then further explained, and this goes on through each different example. Then, if the writer chooses, they can incorporate a counterclaim and refute it in order to strengthen their argument and make sure it is free of logical fallacies. If this order is not preserved, the argument may become confusing to the reader and possibly even to the writer. Restructuring the argument can give a paper the push it needs to become the best that it can be.

The Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab website provides a detailed list of different argumentative structures which I will provide below.

Sometimes, I get to this point in the revision process, and I am still finding that my work is lacking. This can be a result of a variety of different problems. Occasionally, it is because I have dialogue or events that are left over from previous drafts that are no longer relevant. In academic writing, this has helped me identify argumentative points that do not adequately support my thesis. If an argumentative point no longer serves the overarching goals of the paper, it might be time to delete that section and replace it with something else.

In some cases, to find out what is holding my writing back, I must move from the macro level to the micro level. Sometimes, complex sentence structures are a piece’s biggest obstacle. A sentence with too many relative clauses can be confusing to read, even if it is grammatically correct. If the sentence doesn’t have too many relative clauses, the problem could be that the clauses are not coming in the most logical order. For example, take the sentence I just wrote.

A sentence with too many relative clauses can be confusing to read, even if it is grammatically correct.

A sentence with too many relative clauses, even if it is grammatically correct, can be confusing to read.

Both of these sentences are technically correct, but one is slightly more convoluted than the other. A quick fix to some sentences is to just switch around the words to simplify the flow of ideas. It can also be helpful to go through the essay and make sure you are using the correct words for the situation. Though many English words have synonyms, it is common for those replacement terms to have nuanced differences. These differences can render the synonyms inappropriate for the context in which you are using them.

Of course, if these steps are not quite proving helpful, it is always a good idea to come to the Fordham Writing Center to get a second pair of eyes on the paper. In creative writing courses, we engage in workshops where the writer shares their work with the whole class, and the class discusses what is working in the piece. Though sharing ones work can be hard, it is important to utilize the resources at one’s disposal and ask for help when it is needed.

So, You Don’t Want to Learn a Foreign Language?

For some students, seeing four required foreign language courses in the core curriculum is no big deal; it is even a source of excitement. For other students, the foreign language requirement is a source of dread and frustration. One might think, “Why should I learn a foreign language when my prospective job industry mainly works in my native language?” This is an understandable reaction because, let’s face it, learning a foreign language is difficult, but I encourage you to look past that difficulty to see all the benefits it can provide.

In my study of Italian and Latin, I have found that my English has improved. I have been studying Italian for ten years and Latin for four years. Though I began learning Latin after Italian and English, it proved helpful in the way I composed English sentences. For the English language, word positioning is everything. The rearranging of elements in an English sentence will change the meaning of the phrase.

In Classical Latin, words don’t have to come in any particular order. Since all of the information gleaned from English word placement is contained in Latin word forms, strict syntax rules are unnecessary. To an English speaker, the sentence would sound awkward but not incomprehensible when translated literally. I’ll add an example to demonstrate how it works.

Latin: puer puellam amat

English (literal): The boy the girl he loves

English (idiomatic): The boy loves the girl

As you may have noticed, English word order is not nearly as free as Latin word order. The sentence is allowed to be written like that in Latin because the words have cases, which control the role they play in the sentence. For example, the direct object form of one noun (puellam) looks distinct from the indirect object form of the same noun (puellae)

It took me a while to get a hold of all those noun forms. It was frustrating at times that puella and puellā represented two different cases, playing two different roles in the sentence. It was even more infuriating that puellae and puellae looked like the same word but represent two different cases, one being genitive and the other being dative. All these confusing forms forced me to learn the true function of a direct object and an indirect object.

Once I got a handle on the functions of direct and indirect objects, my Italian improved in places I had previously been very confused. In Italian, indirect and direct object pronouns confounded me almost as much as the subjunctive mood. I could never quite get indirect object pronouns right on exams because I couldn’t figure out what made them different from direct object pronouns; this confusion made combination pronouns an absolutely miserable subject. Once I learned Latin, I could recognize that “Maria me l’ha data [la sciarpa]” means “Maria gave it to me [the scarf].”

Both Italian and Latin helped me with my English writing in different ways. Latin got me out of the habit of ending sentences with prepositions. Because of Latin, I began thinking as if English words demonstrated case differences. It suddenly sounded unnatural to write, “She was unaware who she was speaking to,” because that is not how the dative case works. The preposition ‘to’ is built into the dative case. In Latin, that would be, “cui loquebatur nesciebat.” In English, that would say something closer to, “She was unaware to whom she was speaking.”

Italian further helped me develop my English speaking and writing capabilities. Through my Italian classes, I learned the invaluable skill of communication, even when you don’t have exactly the right word for the job. Because I was not always fluent, there were times when I was conversing that I absolutely did not have a wide enough vocabulary to continue the conversation in the most precise manner. Since I wasn’t allowed to use English in the classroom, I had to discover a roundabout way to explain the vocabulary word I was missing. 

This helped my composition in English because I learned that there are many ways to arrive at the same point. In academic writing, it is easy to get caught up in jargon, but there are many possible explanations for the same thing. If a certain phrase referring to one topic is becoming stale, there are always ways to switch it up and make it more interesting.

Though learning a foreign language can be extremely challenging, it can provide many benefits to the native language. Learning other languages can also come with interesting quirks like only being able to remember a word in Italian while you’re speaking English or accidentally inserting Latin words into your Italian sentence. So, get excited about your foreign language courses! They will truly enrich your learning experience over the course of your four years, and if you don’t have a language requirement, try out some language classes for fun! 

The Importance of Cat Viral Videos; Or, Writing for Others

By Ian Sullivan

As odd as it may seem, many students forget to think about the rhetorical situation of writing. Why do I write that this normal reaction to a writing assignment is odd? In personal conversations, texts, tweets, and Facebook posts, people constantly assess to whom they are talking, typing, tweeting, and posting. It seems a natural part of social interaction: we tailor our conversations to interest other people. In short, we try to know our audience. Yet it is not uncommon for a person to fail at this seemingly easy task (as any constant poster of food pictures to Facebook should know). If it is possible to fail even when being careful or, at the least, conscious of how we are marketing ourselves to an audience, what happens when we don’t even think about an audience at all?

Unfortunately, this problem is common. Because writing assignments are assignments, students often mistake the professor for their audience or begin blindly writing for themselves instead of others. Of course, this error is understandable. Even with peer editing, it is difficult to feel that writing is a community project because it requires significant time alone. But successful writers realize that well-written projects cannot occur without thinking about others. It is the job of writers to motivate their readers so they want to read carefully. But an interesting topic is not always enough; writers must think about their audience.

For example, let us consider a writing assignment where I receive no prompt, but I am assigned the topic of cat viral videos:

I can assume that such a topic would interest a broad audience of all genders, sexual orientations, and ages, though perhaps not people who dislike cats or people who don’t use the Internet. Since cat viral videos are so beloved, I assume that my topic is already of interest to my audience. But what do I write about? What problems could cat viral videos possibly present? More importantly, what problems about cat viral videos would my audience actually care about? These are the type of insights and questions that make writing projects successful (and, for the record, I settle on the dangers of distraction: that cat viral videos steal valuable time is a problem to which my audience can relate).

Fairytale Beginnings and Essay Endings; or, Ways to Avoid Common Pitfalls in Opening and Closing Lines

By Julia Cosacchi

“Once upon a time…”

This is a great way to begin a fairy tale. It’s a tried and true, classic line that lets the reader or listener know exactly what sort of story is going to follow. Most, if not all, great fairy tales begin with this same phrase, just as they end with the familiar closing, “and she/he/they lived happily ever after.”

Unfortunately, there aren’t college-writing equivalents for “once upon a time” or “happily ever after,” though many student writers often gravitate toward similarly cliché-sounding models. As I’ll discuss in this post, these models are not very effective for college writing. But don’t fear! I’ll also offer some suggestions for alternative models to use for your opening and closing lines, as well as some principles to guide you as you develop your skills as a writer.

Opening Line #1: The Epic Model
Example: “Since the beginning of time, humans have always struggled to obtain and defend their freedom.”
Students often use some version of this line to begin assignments that ask them to address a large, abstract concept: “freedom,” “justice,” or “beauty,” for example. A more effective strategy is to focus on a specific instance that illustrates or exemplifies what you’re talking about. Instead of telling your reader that “humans” have struggled with freedom “since the beginning of time” (which is a technically true, though an incredibly vague and sweeping, statement), why not offer some evidence that demonstrates what you mean? Try something like, “The human desire for freedom has resulted in [X number of] armed conflicts in the United States alone. This information demonstrates that freedom is something that people are willing to stake their lives to defend.”

Opening Line #2: The Merriam-Webster Model
Example: “Webster’s Dictionary defines ‘freedom’ as ‘the quality or state of being free.’ Based on this definition, I think…”
It is typical for students to fall back on this model when the assignment prompt uses the word “define.” But unless the prompt explicitly asks for a dictionary definition of the term, don’t give one! Your professor knows how to use a dictionary. What he or she doesn’t know is your understanding of the term in question. Rather than allowing Webster to do the assignment (poorly) for you, think about the various ways that the term can be defined. Is there anything interesting, surprising, or contradictory about different usages or definitions of the term? How do the authors of some of your course readings understand and use the term? Have you had any personal experiences that have contributed to your understanding of this term? Give your professor a glimpse into your thought-processes and unique worldview through this type of assignment rather than resorting directly to reference materials.

Closing Line #1: The Inspirational Quote Model
Example: “[insert all of your interesting ideas about freedom here]…, for as Gandhi once said, ‘Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.’”
This model for closing* an essay is alluring to writers who feel like they have already said everything there is to say on the topic. And hey, if someone famous/historical/influential/interesting already said something great on the topic, why shouldn’t you repeat it (with proper citation, of course)? Well, you shouldn’t, and here’s why: because this is YOUR paper! Most college writing assignments are designed to help you develop your own ideas and arguments about a topic. It is therefore at odds with the objective of the assignment to use someone else’s words to express your ideas. If a particular quotation really speaks to you or has been influential in developing your own opinions or understandings of a topic, it’s fine to mention that influence. However, you should cushion such references within the body of your paper, rather than saving them for the very last line. Don’t let someone else have the last word in your essay.

*This model often does double-duty as an opening line as well. Unless your paper is about Gandhi or about a topic/individual very closely related to Gandhi, this probably isn’t the best way to start or to end your paper.

Closing Line #2: The World Peace Model
Example: “Hopefully someday, all countries in the world will understand the meaning of freedom.”
Come on, admit it: we’ve all written something like this before. I know, I know… conclusions are SO HARD to write! And who’s really even reading that last line, anyway? Answer: your professor. So for my final piece of advice, I’ll remind you not to let any sentence of your writing be a “throwaway” line. This closing line is a lot like the Epic opening lines discussed above: it doesn’t really say anything specific about what you’ve written, and it takes as its scope something far too vast to be really relevant to most assignments. Most professors aren’t expecting you to engineer world peace in a single writing assignment, so there’s no need to end your essay by suggesting that you’ve found a solution to a problem of that size. Instead, think about how to frame your argument concisely and try to highlight the main, and most interesting, points of your essay. Emphasizing these points will leave your reader with a clear sense of what unique ideas you have contributed to the topic or problem in question.

As you write and revise your papers this semester, make sure to make your opening and closing lines count! To do this, focus on providing specific, relevant information about your topic. Avoid generalizations and sweeping, universalizing statements. Finally, make sure that your voice and your ideas remain central to the paper. It is YOUR paper, after all!