Organizing Evidence

Learning Objectives

  • Describe strategies for preliminary research (organizing evidence) on a topic

Organizing Evidence

Once you have collected your evidence, how do you organize it?

Outlines offer a great framework for getting started and progressing towards a draft. They become the roadmap to your paper. Outlines come in a variety of structures and more than likely your instructor will request a specific outline format. Nevertheless, outlines offer you a great start to structuring and organizing your ideas onto paper. Depending upon how you organize your evidence will drive which type of outline you use.


Chances are, most of your research papers for English, History, and the Humanities will follow a traditional essay format. This outline is based on a thesis-based essay. It looks like this:

Traditional Outline

  1. Introduction
    1. background, context for topic
    2. transition to thesis
    3. thesis statement
  2. Topic Sentence/Supporting Point 1
    1. supporting detail
      1. example 1
      2. example 2
    2. supporting detail
      1. example 1
      2. example 2
    3. supporting detail
      1. example 1
      2. example 2
  3. Topic Sentence/Supporting Point 2
  4. Topic Sentence/Supporting Point 3
  5. Topic Sentence/Supporting Point 4
  6. Conclusion
    1. review central ideas presented in body and make connections to the thesis
    2. transition to closing thoughts
    3. closing thoughts

Beginning an outline with a topic helps to frame your ideas and evidence. From there you can provide main ideas, supporting details, develop your thesis, and begin to see your ideas take shape.

Imagine that you’ve been tasked with writing a paper about the aftermath of “No Child Left Behind Legislation” (A 2002 statute in the United States mandated standards-based education and required schools to give assessments and reach certain milestones in order to receive federal funding). You begin with the following working thesis statement:

  • “The high stakes testing that is part of No Child Left Behind has a negative impact on student writing and writing instruction, as the act leaves little room for writing instruction in a school’s curriculum.”

Try It

For each topic sentence, we want to include evidence and details that support the claim. For example, let’s consider claims for the following topic sentence: “Because of No Child Left Behind, the time that has been taken from thoughtful writing instruction has led to problems in student writing—an important skill for college and the workforce.”

Try It

Watch It

Now that you’ve worked through this idea of finding evidence to support the thesis and then using topic sentences to support that thesis, let’s put it together. Watch this video about creating an outline based on this same topic.

You can view the transcript for “See It in Practice: Outlining” here (opens in new window).

Building an outline is a great way to review your argument and notice where evidence can be placed to help support your claim. For instance, in an essay about global warming, you can find evidence that show how air quality effects health or evidence about temperatures affecting crop growth. You can look in science or agricultural journals to find evidence to support your claim Think about the most important thoughts you want your reader to take away from your paper. This outline example puts into action a topic, a thesis, main ideas/supporting ideas, evidence, and a conclusion and prepares you for the next phase of drafting a paper.

Outline Example

  1. Introduction
    1. Impacts of global warming
    2. background, context for topic
    3. Global warming has negative impacts on agriculture, weather, and air quality which impact our earth and our health.
  2. Global warming impacts agriculture
    1. Crop growth
    2. How crops are affected by changing temperatures from global warming
  3. Weather
    1. Warmer temperatures
    2. Colder temperatures
      1. Evidence – Climate changes affects various geographic locations differently (National Geographic Journal)
      2. Evidence – Changing weather temperatures affect crops differently
  4. Air quality
    1. Temperatures affect air quality
    2. Affects human health
      1. Supporting details – Ground level ozone can increase and more emissions of pollutants can be released into the air.
      2. Evidence – (The United States Environmental Protection Agency,
  5. Conclusion
    1. review central ideas presented in body and make connection to thesis
    2. transition to closing thoughts
    3. closing thoughts

Writing Workshop: Outlining

Let’s say you’re writing an essay in which you want to argue that high school should start later in the morning. You’ve assembled evidence that starting later would lead to better academic outcomes, better health outcomes, and fewer car accidents. In the outline below, we’ve filled in the second and third main points. Your task is to fill in the first main point with evidence from the previous readings and excerpts in the module.

  1. Introduction
    1. High school should start later
    2. Better academic outcomes
    3. Better health outcomes
    4. Fewer car accidents
  2. Better academic outcomes
  3. Better health outcomes
    1. Later start times reduced absences due to illness
      1. “All in all, for absences the field experiment demonstrates that the change to a 10 a.m. start reduced absences due to illness by over 50 percent compared to national rates” (Kelley et al.)
      2. “Reverting to an 8:50 a.m. start reversed this improvement, leading to an increase of 30% in student illness.” (Kelley et al.)
    2. Insufficient or irregular sleep can increase symptoms of depression
      1. “Surveys reveal that adolescents who get less than 6 3⁄4 hours of sleep each school night or report more than a two-hour difference between school night and weekend bedtimes have a higher level of complaints of depressed mood than adolescents who get more sleep or who sleep on more regular sleep/wake schedules.” (Kelley et al., Dahl, R. E. (1999). The consequences of insufficient sleep for adolescents. Phi Delta Kappan, 80(5), 354-359.)
  4. Fewer car accidents
    1. With more sleep, teen drivers would have fewer accidents.
      1. Crash rates for teen drivers decreased when school times were pushed up one hour: “Average crash rates for teen drivers in the study county in the 2 years after the change in school start time dropped 16.5%, compared with the 2 years prior to the change, whereas teen crash rates for the rest of the state increased 7.8% over the same time period.” (Kelley et al., Danner, F., & Phillips, B. (2008). Adolescent sleep, school start times, and teen motor vehicle crashes. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 4(6), 533-535.)
  5. Conclusion
    1. Restate topic
    2. Restate Main Idea I
    3. Restate Main Idea II
    4. Restate Main Idea III


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