An outline is the sketch of a paper. (A painter sketches the outlines of the objects she will be painting.) You can make several outlines very quickly and choose which one you want to attempt to realize in full. Even if you have a first draft completed, and especially if you have several drafts that you want to combine into a single paper, an outline can provide you with a useful indication of the structure of the finished product.
A structure establishes a space for the paper. The prose that fills in that space, giving it texture, will put various "loads" on the structure and too much detail may bring the structure to the point of collapse. At that point, all the contents end up in a pile at the bottom of the paper. The introduction just keeps going, all the way down to the conclusion.
Here's the rough outline of the paper on sensemaking scholarship that I'm working on:
- Soft Contraints (style and scholarship as theory and method)
- The Hidden Transformation of "Hidden Events" (the Westrum example)
- Making Sense of "Interpretation" (the Mailloux example)
Each point then has several sub-points, which implies a finer outline. Each example consists of several details, which can be listed under each point. The theory section ("Soft Constraints") has a number of aspects. The introduction and conclusion have to emphasize a specific set of salient points. The subpoints need not become sub-headings in the paper.
The outline allows you to work some "head room" into the paper. This space gives your reader a place to think. It allows the reader to stretch his arms, and even jump around a little. More importantly, and by the same token, it gives you a "work space". Instead of building the paper up by stacking each idea on top the one immediately preceding it, your ideas can be a attached to a common frame.
Writing an outline is your way of establishing a spatial scheme for the paper. This gives you a sense of exactly what you will produce. Tomorrow, I want to talk about how this sense of your product correlates with a temporal scheme—how it become a motive for who will produce it. That is, we will bring the outline into contact with the schedule.