Brave Writer Teen Essay Guide Writing

Summer KISS Essay Series #4: Working Thesis and Outline


This one is a pretty quick and easy stage. Hallelujah! We’re creating a working thesis and working outline that will help direct the upcoming research.

A Working Thesis

We write a simple thesis statement at this point. And guys, I mean s.i.m.p.l.e. “Participation trophies are bad for kids.” “We should have paper ballots as back up in our elections.” Like that. This is to help guide the research and keep my teens focused; it’s not the final thesis for their paper.

While it’s interesting to know why parents want participation trophies for their kids, the focus is the negative impact on the kids. We’re not arguing the advantages or disadvantages of paper ballots over electronic ballots but their function as a back up to verify votes. Stay focused!

It’s easy to go off on a related tangent, but that tangent can exceed the scope of the assignment and bog down the process. Teens need to keep their focus clear, and we want them to select evidence that best supports their assertion, not evidence that’s only related to it.

And look, if they come across some research that makes them rethink their position, you get to have that conversation with them and decide together how to move forward with their paper. They get to discover assertions they didn’t think of in their freewrite and go with those instead. That’s why this is a WORKING thesis. It’s meant to be flexible.

A Working Outline

Oh yes, I’m going there too. An outline before research.

But that’s not how Help for High School does it? Is this Brave Writer blasphemy?


Maybe? But it’s not the first time I’ve tweaked the rules. And still no one has come to reclaim my Brave Writer stuff, so I’m thinking we’re safe to tweak things to our favor.

Besides, this isn’t a “real” outline, I promise. It’s not a formal outline meant to control the writing process. At this stage we’re using an outline to help direct the research. 

“I found the only effective outline to be a list of full assertions – one for each paragraph.”

Peter Elbow, Writing Without Teachers

So we make a list of assertions my teens think they may want to use in their paper. This outline may start off half empty. Maybe they only have two assertions when they need three or four. That’s okay because we can find more points during research. Maybe they’ll find new assertions that are better than the ones from their freewrite. That’s okay too.

The purpose of this outline is a reference point and to track how their research is developing the topic.

When I started including a working outline at this stage rather than after the research was complete, it helped my teens know when they found enough evidence for a body paragraph, whether they were researching effectively (I just spend 45 minutes researching and came away with no new evidence? Mom, help!), or if one point isn’t viable because he can’t find enough evidence to support it.

We get to change and tweak this process, finding what works best for our kids. If something causes more confusion than clarity, it gums up the process rather than smooths it out, by all means drop it, including what I’ve put in my own essay guide. Drop it. Find something else that works for your kid and do that instead.