The Introduction (2 paragraphs)
The first paragraph poses the research question. Often, it tells a brief story, then explains why that story needs interpretation. E.g., “In August 1814, a British force invaded Washington and burned the White House. Why was the city so poorly defended?”
Paragraph two explains how the paper will answer the question posed in the lead. The paragraph ends with the thesis statement: a one-sentence summary of the argument of the essay.
The Body (3 X 6 = 18 paragraphs)
It is often useful to break down the body of the essay into two, three, or four parts, each identified with a subhead. Three is an especially strong number. For example, Section I could state one side”s position in a debate, Section II could state the opposing case, and Section III could explain how the conflict was resolved.
Each body paragraph should begin with a topic sentence that supports both the main point of the section and the thesis of the paper. It may be helpful to write all eighteen topic sentences first, then flesh them out. (Of course, some may be dropped in the writing process, while others fragment into multiple paragraphs.)
The Conclusion (2 paragraphs)
Paragraph 1 of the conclusion reiterates your thesis, explaining why it is the best means of understanding the evidence you presented in the body.
Paragraph 2 explains why this argument matters, and how the story and its interpretation help us understand Faulkner’s universal truths—”love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.”
I've found that the fastest way to get going on your paper is to do the research first, then develop your thesis later. If you develop your thesis too early, you may find that there's not enough to research to support it, it's too specific, it's super lame, etc.
So where's the best place to start? Wikipedia. Despite all the Wikipedia trash talk you've heard from teachers, Wikipedia is the best place to get an outline going. It usually gives a broad overview of the topic, then has an outline with a bunch of different topics that I usually steal for my own body outline. Just make sure that you never plagiarize from Wikipedia. I mean don't ever plagiarize anything, but that is the first place your professor will go to check for plagiarization.
Once you have a rough outline, copy and paste specific quotes, passages, terms etc. from Wikipedia into Google and look at other sources that come up. Professors prefer book/print sources over online sources any day...so if your search comes up with a book or print article that has been made available online, definitely go for that. Even if it's just a sample of the book, try to find the page number, or worst-case scenario - make an educated guess. Your professor probably won't go buy the book and scan every page to check up on your citation. If you find a cheap Kindle book on your topic, you might want to buy it. Just remember to only scan through the relevant sections because you don't have time to read an entire book at this point. If your Google search leads to a sketchy looking website with no author, don't use it. It might have awesome info but your professor will not like it if the website isn't valid. That being said, if you know your professor has 200 papers to read and they aren't going to check all sources...and you're feeling lucky...then go for it.
Copy/Paste all the sentences or paragraphs you wish to paraphrase into a word document and put each section into your own words. This is to make sure you don't accidentally plagiarize...because later on you could think you have an awesome original idea but it actually came from an old source you forgot about. The sections don't need to flow together or have any kind of order, it's just about putting things into your own words. Make sure to cite your source after each section...that will save you some time when you're writing your final draft. After you're finished rewriting, delete the original texts.