Outlining is an essential and often overlooked step in the writing process.  You wouldn't take a long road trip without a map; neither should you write a paper without an outline to map out where you are going.

After you've brainstormed ideas and done your research, start to put everything together in outline form.  Try following the sample outline below:

I. Introduction
A. Background information and/or the history of your topic
B. Details forecasting what you will cover in your paper
C. Thesis: A clear, one- or two-sentence statement of exactly what the main focus of your paper is, or, in a persuasive or analysis piece, what you are trying to prove

II. Body/Content
A. Paragraph One
1) Topic sentence: Pull together the main point of the whole paragraph
2) Support
a. Quotes or researched information that supports the point of this paragraph, set up in "sandwich form": first introduce the quote, then state the quote, then explain the quote's significance (this usually takes two or three sentences)
b. Repeat a. as much as necessary, but be careful not to overuse direct quotes
3) Concluding sentence: Sum up your key point from this paragraph and relate them back to the overall topic of your paper.  Make it clear how this paragraph supports your thesis.

B. Following Paragraphs – repeat a. as many times as necessary

III. Conclusion

  1. Restate/paraphrase your thesis
  2. Summarize the points you've made in your body paragraphs
  3. End with a strong concluding sentence, perhaps that relates the importance of your topic to a broader field or the world at large

We also have a sample handout that you can download.