(With Examples)

Dr. David R. Burgess

Rivier College

A concept outline shows how ideas connect to one another. It is built in a specific way:

Title (Main concept)
I. Subtitle (concept that is necessary to understand the main concept, subtitles are main premises)
A. Sub-subtitle (concept that is necessary to understand the subtitle I)
B. Sub-subtitle (Another concept that is necessary to understand the subtitle I)
1. Sub-sub-subtitle (concept needed for sub-subtitle IB)
2. Sub-sub-subtitle (Another concept needed for sub-subtitle IB)
II. Subtitle (Another concept that is necessary to understand the main concept)

Please note some things about outlines in the context of this course.

  1. They are not lists.
  2. They are not sequential or chronological in nature.
  3. If there is a I, there must be a II. An A requires a B, etc.
  4. Headings of the same level (I, II, III; A, B, C; 1, 2, 3; etc.) equally contribute to the heading that they are under. (i.e. A and B under I above must both be understood to understand the concept I.)
  5. Each sub-heading must directly contribute to its heading.
  6. Sub-headings do not contribute to headings other than their own. An exception to this might be when there is one concept that is needed to understand two different headings. In that case, however, the concept would be written twice, one under each of the headings where it is needed.
  7. The outline you might use for organizing the way the presentation will be given may be quite different from the concept outline.
  8. The title is a concept and never a question. The answer to a question is often the concept.

The outline could be stated in terms of premises and conclusions as shown below. This is the same as explained in the short course on writing assignments.

Overall Conclusion, C (Thesis Statement)
I. Main premise to directly support the thesis statement (P1)
A. Premise to support the main premise I (P1a)
B. Another premise to support P1 (P1b)
II. Another main premise to directly support the thesis statement (P2)
A. Premise to support the main premise II (P2a)
B. Another premise to support P2 (P2b)
C. Another premise to support P2 (P2c)
1. Premise to support P2c
2. Another premise to support P2c
III. Etc.

Notice that the same kind of outline could be written for a logical explanation.

If you are writing a paper or giving a presentation, the Roman numeral subtitles in your concept outline would be the principles or other concepts that are needed to understand your thesis. They would not be things like Introduction, Body, etc. Please see writing assignment under assignment helps for further clarification. Four examples are given below. Notice that the title is the thesis (main concept, conclusion) of the presentation (or paper). Remember that the title is a concept. It is often the answer to a question. For example, a question you might have is "How do molecules interact?" and the answer would be that molecules are attracted to each other. That is the title of the first example listed below.

Example #1:
Molecules Will be Attracted to Each Other
I. Molecules form dipoles where one side of the molecule is positive and the other side is negative.
A. Nonpolar molecules form temporary dipoles when electrons temporarily redistribute themselves to one side of the molecule due to random motion or the influence of nearby charges.
B. Polar molecules have a permanent redistribution of electrons to one side of the molecule due to the uneven ability of different atoms to attract electrons.
II. Dipoles will orient themselves so that opposite charges are near each other.
III. Opposite charges form attractive forces.

Example #2:
A ball whirled at the end of a string on a smooth table
will go in a direction tangent to the circle when let go.

  I. An object will go in a straight line when there is no outside force acting upon it.
 II. Straight line motion for a whirling ball is tangent to the circle.
III. There is no outside force after letting go of a ball whirling at the end of a string on a smooth table.

Example #3:
The Core of the Sun has an Average Temperature that is Constant
I. The core is at the center of the sun and the temperature of the core depends on the amount of nuclear fusion, which takes place in the core and provides all of the energy of the sun.
II. Constantly increasing and decreasing fusion in the core results in higher and lower temperatures in the core that oscillate about a constant average temperature.
  1. As fusion increases, more energy is created and more particles are expelled, pushing outward on the outer layers, resulting in lower pressure on the core, which in turn lowers the fusion, energy, and temperature.
  2. As fusion decreases, less energy is created and fewer particles are expelled, allowing the outer layers to collapse onto the core, increasing the pressure on the core, which in turn increases the fusion, energy, and temperature.

Example #4:
The Earth's Continents Move Up and Down on the Mantle
I. The Earth's continents are the less dense, visible part of the Earth's crust, which makes up the outer-most part of the Earth.
II. The mantle is under the crust and is made up of molten rock which is thick but can move and be displaced.
III. If dense material is added to the crust, that area will float lower in the mantle. If dense material on the crust is replaced by less dense material, that area will float higher in the mantle.

Good luck! If you need further clarification just drop me an e-mail.