Rowan University
Ellen Miller, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor

Department of Philosophy & Religion
Rowan University
Glassboro, NJ 08028
Office: 117 Linden Hall

Office Phone:  856-256-4835

Dr. Ellen Miller
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Introduction to Philosophy   (Mon. & Weds.)
Introduction to Philosophy   (Tuesday)
Introduction to Ethics
Philosophy and Gender


   Previous Courses

Contemporary  Moral Problems
Philosophy and Society
Logic of Everyday Reasoning
Feminist Theory
Western        Humanities

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An Argumentative Plan/Outline

 Now that you have determined a tentative thesis or controlling idea, the next step is to package the various parts of the argument so that you can deal with one topic at a time and develop a convincing argument in stages. In your research plan you have laid out what you are going to do in your paper and you have started thinking about how you are going to do what you need to do in your particular paper, how you will support your thesis with outside sources, articles form the texts, and analysis to ethical theories.

 Now, we need to think about ways in which we can put forth convincing arguments. How will you persuade your audience about your perspective? It’s more convincing to show that you are aware about what others have already said about your topic, your position. Then you need to be able to explain how your position is similar/different to these other voices in the conversation you are undertaking.

Philosophy as conversation

Remember this essay is an argumentative (or synthesis) essay. It is primarily a thesis defense paper. That is, you take a position on an issue and then defend it. It involves bringing together parts of several arguments to create a new whole. It is not a research paper that reports on what other people have said. It is not a book report. Nor is it simply an expression of your feelings and emotions. It is not simply a collection of stories and examples. And it is not a compliation of quotations from a number of different sources. A synthesis essay is, at its most basic, an attempt to persuade someone of something. You must give reasons and present evidence, and then defend your thesis against objections (These are the other voices in the conversation I talked about in class)


During pre-writing, you can make a working outline--an outline that guides you in your drafting. It helps you answer the question: How am I going to present my information, given my thesis, my assignment and my audience?

Here’s an example: A student wrote this outline before beginning her essay. She wanted to describe the three political theories and then compare them by using each to analyze the government of a particular country, arguing that neo-Marxism is the most useful theory. Her working outline isn't very formal, but it fulfills the functions of a good outline.

  • It supports the thesis.
  • It establishes the order and relationship of the main points.
  • It clarifies the relationship between the major and minor points.

Here's what the outline should look like:

I. Introduction: State your thesis

II. Give your reasons and supporting evidence for that conclusion




III. Show not only that your premises are true, but that they prove the conclusion




IV. Present objections to your position




V. Explain why each of these objections fail




VI. Conclusion: Summarize and review what you have accomplished and what it means


Depending on how many arguments you want to present, your outline may include more sections (For example you may have 3 different arguments you deal with under section II--so your outline would include IIa, IIIa).

At this point, you can either write full sentences for your outline or useful, brief phrases that will help you when you sit down to write. I will be looking for whether your outline shows the main points you wish to make and how others have responded.

Your job as the writer is to think through the relationship between your ideas. For example, is one idea similar to or different from another? Is one a cause of another? An effect? An example? Is one idea the solution to another? Do two points represent different categories of a larger idea? In other words, do your ideas fall into one of the conventional approaches to thinking about an issue: cause-effect, problem-solution, comparison-contrast, definition, classification? You can use these standard approaches to help you think through your ideas and come up with a logical plan. That plan then becomes your outline.

Remember—this paper is an argumentative essay as explained in our class on writing an argumentative essay. You should make sure that your position is clearly stated. Your paper is a contribution to an on-going debate where you need to represent other viewpoints by looking to the course readings, lectures, discussions, and any secondary sources you are using.


 For this outline assignment, please write your working thesis at the top of the page and then follow with an outline of how you will structure your paper. This is subject to change, but this will help get you thinking about the structure and plan of your paper so that it doesn’t feel as overwhelming when you sit down to face the blank page.

Your outline is where you can think about which views you will cover, which theories and how these tie into your thesis. You can use this to help guide your writing of your first draft.  

You can follow the format of the pre-writing outline given above. What I am looking for is for you to think about what your main points will be, how you will support those points, how you will organize your paper. This initial work will help you write a much better paper.

 You can follow the example given above for how to format your outline. This assignment is meant to help you sort through your ideas and organize them before you start the difficult task of writing. Then I can give you feedback on your outline that will help prepare you for writing your draft.



Copyright 2001 Dr. Ellen Miller. All rights reserved. Document last modified