In most subjects, the essay exercise is dreaded by students because they imagine the rules to be abstract and imprecise.
Hence the incessant questioning of the type: A two-part or three-part plan? What is an essay? How should it be structured? How to choose its parts?
In history, English, law, philosophy, or any other general knowledge test: you will need a Plan.
After having discussed the “beauty” of your essay in our article 20 instructions for a good paper, we will talk more about what supports your essay, what structures it: the skeleton!
The four techniques that you will discover below will allow you to easily understand which type of outline is the most adapted for your essay, and for which subject it is appropriate.
In other words, we are offering you an unstoppable war strategy, because after reading our article, you will have no problem structuring all the assignments/essays of all your exam questions in your whole life! Nothing less! 😉
So keep your eyes open because these four techniques will give you the key to structuring your homework, giving coherence to your ideas, and articulating the different movements of your paper, and this in all possible subjects.
- Sample outline #1: the progressive outline (or the Theater Technique)
- Typical outline n° 2: the chrono-thematic outline (or the Bearded Snake Technique)
- Sample outline #3: the dialectical outline (or the Old Philosopher Technique)
- Sample outline n° 4: the legal outline (or the Technique of the Slacker in his Hammock)
We have given pictorial names to the techniques for finding a plan, first so that they are easy to identify, but also so that they are easy to remember! Soak up the image we give you in the name of the technique, and you will have absolutely no trouble remembering what the technique means.
An effective technique for producing an outline quickly: Theater
Subjects for this outline: This outline will be useful in all subjects, and especially for the explanation of text (French, philosophy, English, Spanish, German, foreign languages, history…)
A number of parts of the plan: This outline is always built in 3 parts.
Approach of the plan: It starts from the most obvious, the most superficial, to the most subtle, the most profound.
Make the outline work: Here’s how to set up the plan, and what it actually consists of. Your question (whether it is an essay title, just a sentence, or an entire text) is actually a play.
Imagine the very beginning of the play: you sit in the seats and look out at the stage. The curtain opens. You notice the sets, where the characters are placed, who the characters are on the stage, what their names are, what clothes they are wearing, what time period the play is set in. This is your first part. These are all the elements that introduce your subject, that introduce the situation.
The play continues, and the plot really takes place. You carefully follow the story, the twists and turns, the stakes. This character has fallen in love with that character, who in turn hates that character, etc. Think of your favorite series, think Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and all the interlocking plots, all the complex relationships between the characters. You have to account for all the developments. This is your second part. These are all the interactions that are raised by your topic.
The play is coming to an end. And now it is time for the aptly named: coup de théâtre. This is the final twist, “the punch line”, and everything takes on a new dimension. You understand everything in a new way. Think again of your favorite movie, your favorite series, when at the end the character makes a revelation that calls into question everything that has been going on since the beginning: it had remained a secret until now, but now that you know it, it explains a lot! It is this secret that you must reveal now. This is your third part. It is about all the subtle things that you do not think about right away, things that have been hidden from the very beginning of your assignment, from your introduction, and now they are coming out.
Example for this outline: The cultural influence of France since 1945
I. The French welfare state: new economic models. – You describe here the situation as it is. What is the situation on the cultural influence of France between 1945 and today, what do you see at first glance?
II. Schooling, urbanization, and cultural policy in France. – This is the plot. What is the evolution? How does this cultural influence take place, what are the relationships and interactions at work?
III. The consumer society and the evolution of morals. – This is the secret dynamic. What has been going on all along that we can finally reveal? With hindsight and at the end, we discover that it is a whole mentality, a whole system of thought, which has changed since the beginning and which was the hidden dynamics of the cultural influence of France. This is what we realize at the end, and which gives meaning to everything we have described so far.
→ At the end of this article, we help you find the subparts of your outline quickly.
The name “Bearded Serpent” hides what the real name of this outline is, and that is none other than“Chronos”, the god of time. And it is not by chance that we have hidden the name of the god Chronos! It is because you will have to do the same in your copy. Chronos was once depicted as a three-headed snake, and nowadays he is sometimes depicted as an old bearded man. By combining the two images, you end up going head to head with a bearded snake!
Admittedly, our snake has more flowers on him than a beard.
The important thing is to remember the god who will save your essay: Chronos !
Subjects for this outline: the bearded snake, it will be especially, especially, especially useful in… HISTORY! Almost every time you will be faced with a history essay topic, the Bearded Snake will be the most effective plan! And as a result, it is probably the most common outline as well.
A number of parts of the plan: 3 parts is ideal, by default. But if it works better in 2 parts as we will explain, then go for it in 2 parts.
Approach of the plan: the outline of the Bearded Snake is none other than … the chrono-thematic plan! It is an outline that goes from the old to the most recent, while thematizing each period.
Make the outline work: To make this outline work, you must first define the chronological boundaries of your subject! Let us take a classic example, your subject is: “The First World War”. It is up to you to identify the milestones, and as you have some notions of history, you will very quickly determine the milestone of the beginning of 1914 and the milestone of the end of 1918. It is then necessary to determine 2 or 3 periods in these milestones! We are lucky, because the First World War is very often described in 3 successive phases. So you just have to take these 3 periods:
- autumn winter 1914
Just as we made up the name of the god Chronos, replacing it with “Bearded Serpent”, you will have to make up the name of your 2 or 3 parts by replacing the period with a strong image representative of that period. What characterizes this period? What is the essence of this period? When you made your division into 3 periods, it means that there was a change, a turning point, in history. What was it like before, and what was it like after? The correction to these questions will be your parts!
For the First World War, here is what your parts would be:
- The First Movement War. (Fall winter 1914)
- the Trench War (1915–1917)
- was the second War of Movement. (1918)
This is how you do not just recite history without thinking, recounting events one after the other without understanding them. By identifying the turning points, the characteristics of each period, what has changed, what makes the essence of each period of history in relation to another, you produce a real analysis, a reflection. This reflection is the added value that the corrector is looking for. The corrector has two objectives: 1) to be sure that you know your course well, that you know the dates, you know the historical facts by heart. 2) you can find the coherence of the course of history, analyze it, and you do not remain passive: you find meaning in history.
Example for this outline: The diplomatic power of France in the world from 1958 to 2007
As you will see, it is important for such a vast subject to understand the turning points. We have therefore identified 4 pivotal years, i.e. the 4 years that changed the course of history: 1958–1974–1991–2007. Among them, 2 had already been given to us in the question, and it is, of course, not by chance. You must explain why the corrector gave you these milestones, why it is important to start in 1958 and end in 2007. From these pivotal years, we can deduce that there were 3 main periods. And it is up to us/and now to you to give them a color, to say how these periods are, what is special about them. Here are the colors we found for each period:
I. The politics of greatness (1958–1974)
II. France dependent on the bipolar world confrontation (1974–1991)
III. France in the face of globalization (1992–2007)
→ At the end of this article, we help you find the subparts of your outline quickly.
Please note: This Bearded Snake, or chrono-thematic, outline is not required/suitable for all history essays.
For example, if the question is very narrow chronologically, it is not useful, and in this case it is better to use the first technique we presented, that of the Theater. In particular, if, as we have already seen, the question is limited to a single date. Example:“Subject: The year 1945″.
Conversely, if the question is about a very broad period, then there is a very good chance that the Bearded Serpent is the only suitable plan! Example:“Subject: Royal power from 1328 to 1792″.
A classic philosopher for an equally classic plan,
and surely the most formidable and efficient one still today
Subjects for this outline: the Old Philosopher is probably the one that will help you the most in the most different subjects! General knowledge, contemporary issues, History, foreign languages, and, of course, Philosophy (because they invented it). You will be able to use it in many cases, and there is in ONE particular case where you should absolutely think about it: as soon as a question can be answered with “Yes” or “No”, for example if the question can be formulated with“Is that. ..?” → the old philosopher!
Number of parts of the plan: ALWAYS 3 PARTS. This time, it is mandatory, and it is for your own good, even if the 3rd part will often be the trickiest! 😉
Approach of the plan: it is simply the dialectical plan. It is a discussion: arguments in favor, arguments in opposition, and solutions. In an even more concise way, we could summarize it by the formula: Yes/No/Overcoming. But be careful, it is not as simple as it sounds, so read on.
Make the outline work: Indeed, we must understand the Old Philosopher well; otherwise the consequences could be disastrous. Historically, dialectics can be traced back at least to Plato (he is in fact the Old Philosopher): it is then a discussion. It is as if there were 3 people involved: the first one is for such and such a measure, the second one is against, and the third one has to take into account the arguments of all and find the solution so that everybody is happy! This means that all the arguments are valid, and that the discussion progresses. The third part is therefore very difficult because you have to recognize the relevance of everything you have said so far, and resolve opposing views. In short, it is up to you to solve the problems, YOU are the Old Philosopher. Imagine a dialogue on the unlikely question of“Should we bottle-feed?”:
I. Grandmother: Bottle-feeding is good for A. this obvious reason B. even more so for this second reason C. finally and especially for this third reason.
II. Grandfather: Bottle-feeding is bad for A. this obvious reason B. even more so for this second reason C. finally and especially for this third reason.
III. You: It is true, Grandma is right, and Grandpa is also right. Therefore, the solution is to understand that giving the bottle is not only a question of good or evil: beyond all that there is in the interest of humanity blah blah blah.
Yes, you are allowed to imagine two grandparents chatting during your exam if it can earn you points!
Examples of this plan: Answer key to the question: Work, a factor of integration?
I. Work can still be a factor of social integration today
II. Work is not always a factor of social integration
III. Social integration must be promoted by a flexible but regulated work discipline
Attention: the advantage is that very often for essays in French or in philosophy or in history or in other subjects, there is no need to show the plan. But you should still announce the outline in the introduction, and emphasize its articulation in the transitions. Your outline announcements should not be as crude as we have outlined here. You do not want to sound like you are saying something (I) and then destroy what you have just said (II)! We remind you that all arguments are correct and remain so until the end! This is where all the subtlety and difficulty of the dialectical outline lies, which is nevertheless the best plan, the most effective and the most brilliant when it is successful! It is the one that will take you the farthest, it is the classiest.
You must therefore take particular care in formulating your outline announcements, showing clearly that there is no brutal contradiction that would destroy your work, but that there is a progression. What grandma says is interesting, and what grandpa says is also interesting, even if they do not see eye to eye. This is, of course, even more important for your third part, since there has to be a reconciliation, a solution, and overcoming of all the arguments that have been made so far.
→ At the end of this article, we help you find the subparts of your outline quickly.
If you are as relaxed as the young man to use this two-part plan,
then go ahead and get that good grade you have been dreaming of!
Subjects for this outline: Law almost always, Foreign Languages quite often, General Knowledge and Contemporary Issues.
Number of parts of the plan: 2 parts! Only 2 parts, hence our friendly name of “Flemmard”, because this is the only outline that is only in 2 parts. A little more gratifyingly, we could have called it: “The Efficient Guy Who Only Needs 2 Parts”, but we thought it was more fun to kid around a bit.
Approach of the plan: Simply put, the whole logic of this outline of the Slacker in his Hammock can be summarized in 2 words: “YES, BUT.” Hence our name “of the Hammock”: think of the swing of the Hammock, very binary: I go on one side, and suddenly I go back on the other side.
Make the outline work: So your first part is the most obvious thesis. That is the “YES.” Your second part will be the perfect place to qualify. This is the “BUT”. In the first part, you tell the grader:
Part I. must be seen that such and such a measure is good for this reason (A) and especially for that reason (B).
Part II. However, we must be careful. Because reason A is true, but we must not forget that it can be dangerous (A). And the reason B is also true, but it can also be dangerous (B)
In short, you assert your thesis (I) thanks to two arguments (A) and (B). Then – think of the Hammock – you counterbalance (II) this thesis with two new arguments (A) and (B).
An example for this outline: Correction of the question Does the Family Have a Future?
I. Family roots
A. The roots of the family
B. Family uprooting
II. Family uprooting as a future?
A. Dissolution or transformation of the family?
B. When society plays with ideological influences on the family
→ Just below, we help you find the subparts of your outline quickly.
For all the outlines we have seen, subparts are much easier.
Just go from least important to the most important.
Select 3 important points that you will make. Which of these 3 arguments carries the most weight? Which one will convince your examiner that you are right? This most important point you save for the end, your third subsection. The second argument, which is important but not so important, will be your second subpart. The easiest argument, the one that everyone thinks of and that is actually not that strong, you explain right away: this is your first part.
If you only have 2 arguments in mind, it does not matter: you can use only 2 subparts. It is much less important when it comes to the subparts, but always make 2 or 3 subparts, no more, no less.
Finally, keep in mind that all your parts must be balanced! The ideal is this:
- Introduction 15%-20% of the paper
- Part I. 20%-25% of assignment (A. 33% of part – B. 33% of part – C. 33% of part)
- Part II. 20%-25% of assignment (A. 33% of part – B. 33% of part – C. 33% of part)
- Part III. 20%-25% of the assignment (A. 33% of the part – B. 33% of the part – C. 33% of the part)
- Conclusion 10%-15% of assignment
Apply these techniques to come up with an outline quickly and efficiently
Knowing the techniques to get the best possible outline for your paper is great. Being able to apply them productively, and save as much time as possible on your assignment, is even better! Read these productivity tips again so that you can perform better on your exam.
Don’t forget that there are other outlines, but in these cases they are much simpler and you do not need any technique. For example, some professors recommend a linear text commentary, that is, sentence by sentence, word by word. In this case, you just need to cut the text into 3 main parts, and give a title that summarizes each part.
One last mnemonic to help you remember all these techniques: if you are not sure on the day of the assignment how to do it, remember this little story: you are in a big theater in Paris (1st technique to find a plan), the room is full, there are a lot of people around you who are laughing, who are bored, who are chatting while waiting for the show to start. Suddenly, the curtain rises: horror! A huge snake with a long beard (2nd technique to find a plan) moves on the stage. The whole room is panic-stricken. All the spectators suddenly get up in a panic, rushing towards the exits. Then an old Greek man with sandals, walks painfully towards the stage, his back bent (3rd technique to find a shot). He climbs the steps, approaches the snake and shouts at it: “Get out! The snake gets scared and runs away. When the audience realizes what has just happened, they are all extraordinarily relieved. They all laugh very quickly when they see that the old man is lying down in the hammock on the stage (4th technique to find a plan).
Come on, you may have a more serious and credible story to remember these ways, but we hope that from now on you will be able to identify your outline quickly, efficiently and orderly.
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