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For more information, please see full course syllabus of Application Essays
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Lecture Comments (5)

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Post by Austin Cunningham on June 28, 2014

I've been working on an outline for just one of four application essays I have to write for admission to an outrageously competitive school, which has been said to be the number 1 in the nation. The prompt is an explanation prompt, including both why I want to go to the school AND why they should except me (two separate questions in one essay), and I don't know if it would be more effective to start with why I want to go there OR why they should accept me, and I am also not sure how many reasons of each I should give (500 word limit). Do you have any advice as to what I should do? Thank you.

1 answer

Last reply by: Professor Hendershot
Tue Oct 1, 2013 12:27 PM

Post by carlos bara on September 28, 2013

Professor Hendershot, you're amazing. I really like the way you make things so simple and clear. Please give tips on becoming a better writer please. I freeze all the time. I guess I think to much, and at the end, I end up not expressing properly. Please give me some feedback.

Thank you professor

1 answer

Last reply by: Professor Hendershot
Mon Sep 16, 2013 12:51 PM

Post by Kelly Jang on September 16, 2013

I'm kind of familiar with the mnemonic outline, and I use it a lot in my writings. But the thing is, if I'm not so sure about the concept - which means that it's not a safe topic, perhaps like the 'superhero' one you mentioned at the previous lectures -, what outline should I use? Should I use the mnemonic outline since I'm familiar with it and like improvising, or should I use the formal one just to be safe?


  • An outline is a written plan for your writing. It may be very elaborate or very simple. Think of an outline as a road map—it shows you where your journey starts, where you’ll go along the way, and where you’ll end up if all goes well.
  • A formal outline is the sort you’ve learned about in school. It has lots of numbers and letters and points and sub-points. It’s a very detailed map.
  • A formal outline has its advantages:
    • It’s very detailed, so it forces you to think about your writing in detail.
    • It’s easy to write from a very detailed plan.
  • A formal outline has its disadvantages, too:
    • It takes a long time to create one
    • Sometimes a too-formal outline will get you so bogged down in details that you lose the big picture.
    • Some writers find it takes the fun out of writing.
  • A mnemonic outline is far less detailed—just jot down whatever you need to remember your main points. It’s like turn-by-turn directions rather than a detailed map.
  • A mnemonic outline has its advantages:
    • It’s very quick to make—just jot down whatever will help you remember.
    • It gives you room to improvise.
    • It’s hard for anyone else to copy.
  • A mnemonic outline has its disadvantages, too:
    • It requires less discipline
    • It has fewer details (and some writers need lots of details)
    • If you forget what your mnemonics mean, you’re in trouble.
  • Use a formal outline if:
    • You need lots of details in order to stay on topic.
    • You’re not quite sure your idea will hold up.
    • You have difficulty remembering mnemonics.
    • You just feel more comfortable with the formal style.
  • Use a mnemonic outline if:
    • You like to improvise a little as you write.
    • You’re certain your concept is a strong one.
    • You’re in a hurry.
    • You’re more comfortable with the mnemonic style.
  • Test your outline on yourself. Imagine writing it. Can you see how it will go?
  • Then test your outline on a friend. Can you explain your essay without boring or confusing your listener?
  • When in doubt, choose the outline that works best for you. That’s all that matters!


Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.

  • Intro 0:00
  • Lesson Overview 0:07
  • What is an Outline? 0:43
  • A Sample Essay 1:07
    • Prompt
  • Choosing Your Outline Style 1:55
    • Formal Outline
    • Introduction
    • Using My Brain
    • Advantages
    • Disadvantages
    • Mnemonic Outline
  • A Mnemonic Outline 6:45
    • Essay
    • Introduction
    • Thesis
    • Body Paragraphs
    • Conclusion
  • Choosing Your Outline Style 10:47
    • Advantages
    • Disadvantages
  • Which Outline is Right for You? 12:25
    • Use a Formal Outline If…
    • Use a Mnemonic Outline If…
  • Testing Your Outline 13:55
    • Test on Yourself
    • Test on Someone Else
  • When in Doubt 15:06