Technique 5: Preparing a Scratch Outline A scratch outline is an excellent sequel to the first four prewriting techniques. A scratch outline often follows freewriting, questioning, list-making, or diagramming, or it may gradually emerge in the midst of these strategies. In fact, trying to make a scratch outline is a good way to see if you need to do more prewriting. If you cannot come up with a solid outline, then you know you need to do more prewriting to clarify your main point or its several kinds of support.
In a scratch outline, you think carefully about the point you are making, the supporting items for that point, and the order in which you will arrange those items. The scratch outline is a plan or blueprint to help you achieve a unified, supported, well-organized composition. When you are planning a traditional essay consisting of an introduction, three supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion, a scratch outline is especially important. It may be only a few words, but it will be the framework on which your whole essay will be built.
Scratch Outline: A Student Model As Diane was working on her list of details, she suddenly realized what the plan of her essay could be. She could organize many of her details into one of three supporting groups: (1) annoyances in going out; (2) too many tempting snacks; and (3) other people. She then went back to the list, crossed out items that she now saw did not fit, and numbered the items according to the group where they fit. Here is what Diane did with her list:
1 Traffic is bad between my house and the theater
3 Noisy patrons
X Don’t want to run into Jeremy
Hard to be on a diet
Kids running in aisles
3 I'm crowded into seats between strangers who push me off armrests
Not enough parking
Parking lot needs to be expanded
Too many previews
X Can't pause or fast forward as you can with a VCR
3 People who've seen movie before talk along with actors and give away plot twists
3 People coughing and sneezing
1 Icky stuff on floor
3 Teenagers yelling and showing off
Under the list, Diane was now able to prepare her scratch outline:
Going to the movies offers some real problems. 1. Inconvenience of going out
2. Tempting snacks
3. Other moviegoers
Comment After all her prewriting, Diane was pleased. She knew that she had a promising paper–one with a clear point and solid support. She saw that she could organize the material into a traditional essay consisting of an introduction, several supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion. She was now ready to write the first draft of her paper, using her outline as a guide. Chances are that if you do enough prewriting and thinking on paper, you will eventually discover the point and support of your essay.
ACTIVITY Create a scratch outline that could serve as a guide if you were to write an essay about your year-ahead goals.