Have you ever tried writing an essay without an outline? If you have, chances are your ideas went all over the place even though you started out with a specific goal in mind. So when your professor reads the paper, they won’t know what points you’re trying to make or how those points support your thesis statement. If they can’t understand what they’re reading, there’s no way they’ll grade it an A+.
That’s why you should have an essay outline to organize your research or opinions in a way that makes sense for readers. An essay outline helps you structure your writing in a logical flow to get your ideas across more effectively, which also improves your overall writing quality. As such, it also ensures that you don’t accidentally leave out the most critical points you want to convey.
If you’re reading this, you probably don’t know how to write an outline for an essay (yet) or you want to get better at it. That’s exactly what this guide will help you with. You’ll discover what goes into an essay outline and how you can write one for your next paper. Let’s get started.
What is an outline?
An outline is an organization tool that helps authors plan their writing before they start. In other words, it’s a roadmap or a blueprint of your paper. It acts as the foundation of your piece, listing out the main ideas in a logical structure that flows well. Having a topical outline in place also makes it easier to remember all the points you need to form a strong argument or support your opinions.
Although an essay outline isn’t mandatory, it helps you get the job done faster and more easily. When you start writing without a proper plan in mind, however, there could be a lot of restructuring and rewriting. This not only takes time but can be mentally taxing, and you can’t afford that especially when you have other classes to catch up with.
Writing an essay outline involves a few steps – preparation, structuring, and organization. Since this can be a lot of work, it’s best to learn from a writing tutor who will guide you through the entire process and give you hands-on training. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to learn it on your own, and this guide will give you all the basic ideas you need to cover when creating an outline.
Key elements of an essay outline
Regardless of what type of essay you’re writing, a formal essay outline typically has three essential elements – the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. Let’s take a closer look at each of these components:
This is the section where you’ll introduce readers to your topic and describe why you’re writing about it. It needs to be relevant and attention-grabbing. When writing a college research paper outline, be sure to mention the topic and the thesis statement in your introduction.
Starting your outline with a thesis statement will give you a better sense of how to support the ideas and arguments you present in the body.
This is the section that will contain the most information and it’s where you’ll present ideas and arguments to support your thesis. It should have a minimum of three paragraphs and your outline should touch on each of them.
For each paragraph, note the topic or idea you’ll be discussing. Don’t forget to include the supporting evidence such as data, examples, expert opinions, and facts you plan to use for each paragraph.
This is the section where you wrap up the essay and remind readers about the points you were trying to make. Start by paraphrasing your thesis statement and summarize the purpose of your paper.
In general, most formal essay outlines use a linear formatting style. This involves ranking your points or arguments in order of importance. So for example, you’ll start by discussing the most important point at the top of your essay body and then gradually move downward.
Considering all these elements, your essay outline will typically look like this:
3 Questions to ask before creating an outline
Before you’re ready to create your essay outline, ask yourself the following questions so you can start with a strong direction. Having all this information in place will make it easier to put together your outline:
1: What’s your goal?
What’s the purpose of writing this paper? Perhaps you want to inform your readers about a specific topic or maybe you want to persuade them to accept your argument. Identifying your goal will help you form a strong thesis statement as well.
2: Who will read it?
For whom are you writing your essay? Yes, you’ll consider writing for a professor when preparing a college research paper outline, but they aren’t your only target audience. Perhaps you’re writing for your classmates and peers, or you’re writing for experts in your field.
If you’re writing a college application essay, for instance, your target audience will be the members of the admissions committee. This means you should be writing for students, staff, and professors alike.
Identifying your target audience will help you understand how to form convincing arguments while considering their knowledge and points of view.
3: What’s your thesis statement?
Now based on the goal of your essay, come up with a strong thesis statement that details your argument and draws in the readers.
Structuring your outline
Once you have a goal and a thesis statement ready, it’s time to structure your essay outline. You can either use an alphanumeric outline structure like we’ve done in the above example, or you can also go for a decimal structure depending on what’s clearer to you.
Remember, this isn’t your full essay yet so feel free to briefly outline your ideas in fragmented sentences. However, a college research paper outline will most likely need complete sentences if your professor is going to review it. This will help them understand the ideas and arguments you plan on presenting in your essay.
Putting this all together
Now let’s get to the main event – organizing your essay outline. Follow the topical outline structure of your choice and begin by outlining the introduction. In a sentence, describe the topic you’re writing about. Then follow up with your thesis statement.
You might also want to include an essay hook to make your paper even more enticing for readers. An essay hook is the opening sentence of your introduction, which instantly draws in readers and makes them want to read the entire piece. It could be anything from a relevant quote or a common misconception to an anecdote or a personal story.
Next, outline the body of your essay by noting down the topic or argument for each paragraph. Include the supporting evidence you plan on using such as stats, facts, examples, and expert opinions. Don’t forget to mention how the evidence ties in with the topic and thesis statement.
It will help to include a transition sentence in each paragraph so you can quickly structure your arguments in a logical flow. When you add more details to your essay outline, you’ll find it much easier to organize all the info as you write.
Finally, end it with an outline of your essay conclusion. Make sure you restate your thesis statement to remind your readers of your argument. Then follow up with a concluding statement to validate your thesis and propose any solution or plan to address the issue discussed in your essay.
Outline examples for different types of essays
While it’s helpful to read articles that tell you what to do and how to do it, working with a personal English tutor can give you a much more practical experience in writing essay outlines. Another excellent solution is to learn from example. So we’ve put together outline examples for the most popular types of essays:
Argumentative essay outline example
An argumentative essay, also known as a persuasive essay, involves using logical arguments to support your opinion and persuade readers. This type of persuasive writing will require solid evidence to back up your theory or argument such as facts, research, and examples.
Narrative essay outline example
A narrative essay is a form of descriptive writing where you narrate a story based on your personal experience or point of view. This is the easiest type of essay because it doesn’t require any research or supporting evidence. However, the most challenging part is providing specific and sensory details that would help readers understand your point of view.
Research essay outline example
A research essay is a form of academic writing which involves analyzing the works of other people on a certain topic and build on them using your own opinions or ideas. This is the most common type of essay you’ll have to write as a grad or post-grad student. It can be challenging as it requires plenty of research, coupled with original ideas and critical thinking.
Get ready to write sensational essays
All the tips and examples we’ve provided above will help you understand how and where to begin your essay writing process. It all starts with a good essay outline to organize your thoughts and structure your writing flow. Otherwise, you’ll end up losing your train of thought while you’re in the middle of writing. So make the most of our guide to develop your essay and outline writing skills.