Dec 09 2021

How to Write an Essay Outline

Adela Belin photo Adela Belin Content strategist and writer
Knowledge Cell

Now that you understand what your essay prompts mean, it's time to create your essay outline.

Writing an essay outline is a crucial part of academic writing. It helps plan your essay structure and provides a logical flow of events so that readers can clearly understand your reasons and consequences.

An essay outline will make sure you cover all the requirements in your prompt, which is the trick to getting an A-Grade essay. Your outline can end up messy if you don't know the proper steps.

Original: SourceIn this article, we will cover all the steps on how to write an essay outline, including some tips to help you better develop, organize and write your essay using a system.

How to Write an Essay Outline in 4 Steps

Many don't realize this but writing an outline helps you formulate your ideas better. It helps with natural pacing, and you are less likely to go off on a tangent while writing. Here’s how you can write a solid essay outline in four steps.

Extract prompt requirements

The first step on how to write an essay outline is finding the focus of your essay.

Extract key terms and instructions that you are required to answer in your essay. Go over your prompt a few times to see if there are any underlying assumptions.

For a better guideline, you can also transform them into a directive statement or simple why or how questions. Overall, this should be your framework for thinking and advise you on what you should write about in your paper.

Furthermore, identify your audience and clarify who you are writing for. Some prompts may ask you to take the role of a magazine journalist and ask you to register to specific audiences.

Research and take notes

At this stage, your ideas are most likely not fully formed. To write an excellent essay, you will need to do your research.

Ideally, you should get your information and resources from a wide range of materials like news, scholarly publications, books, magazines, and more. This will give you a more comprehensive analysis of your topic that most instructors are looking for.

With abundant resources read, you need to actively read the passage and take note of ideas that will answer your topic. Whether you are doing it by hand or digitally, there are two things to keep in mind when you are doing your research.

The first is to group your information by keywords or topics to better shape your ideas into a structured argument and look for supporting evidence.

Second, is to always keep notes on your resources. You should include the citation, the type of source, and the URL if it is a website for each reference.

When you are taking notes, we also recommend that you rewrite the author's work on the go to help you save time for the actual writing.

Organize your materials

As you carry out your research, you will have come across various data and arguments.

In this next step, you should now evaluate your materials and think carefully about how you want to approach the essay question. Look over your information and consider the central theme and your arguments or evidence to support them.

You may come across several viewpoints during your research, and our advice is to choose the one with the most evidence to form the basis of your thesis statement.

Remember that your essay isn't a collection of facts and ideas. Instead, it should be a piece of writing centered on a particular viewpoint with arguments supporting it.

The way you organize your materials is crucial in presenting your viewpoint coherently.

So go through the information you have collected and sort your material more logically. It should be in a way that serves the argument, and this would make up your informal or rough outline.

Here’s a useful video by Julia Ravey Science on how to organize your research material for essay writing.


Writing the outline

With most of your formulated arguments, it is now time to write a working outline. At this step, you should be deciding how to connect the information and ideas.

As a general rule of thumb, your introduction should describe any background information on the topic. Even if you have any additional context that doesn't fit in the opening, you should present this information at the start of the body.

When organizing, you must consider the order of information for your arguments. The body of a good essay often begins with the most straightforward and widely recognized points before advancing to more complex and controversial ideas.

For example, your essay might be discussing unethical business practices using a case study. In this case, you begin by providing descriptions of the business and discussing the issue on a macro level before discussing it with the more individualistic micro view.

Additionally, compose your outline considering the flow and see if the transition from one point to another makes sense. Do you need to provide context before talking about specific issues?

To help enhance the flow of your essay, we recommend that you elaborate on each point. Write a topic sentence or short summary about the things you will be covering in each paragraph. This will give you a better picture of how your essay will unfold.

You can also use transition words to connect different ideas or sections throughout your essay. This will help guide the audience reading through your text and make it more effective to follow.

Ideally, a good transition sentence moves the reader onto the next topic while indicating how it is related to the previous point.

Another tip is to use an alphanumeric structure in your essay outline to clarify your topic sentence and supporting arguments or evidence.

Once you are done with a rough outline, take a second look to ensure everything in your essay is relevant to the thesis. Ask yourself whether each piece of information is necessary and if it can advance your thesis statement.

Essay Outline Example - Take Inspiration:

The basic structure of an essay consists of three parts

  • Introduction that presents your topic and thesis statement;
  • Body that contains in-depth analysis and arguments;
  • Conclusion that summarizes your ideas.

Here's an example of an essay outline to better illustrate

1. Introduction

  • Capture the reader's attention by using a great essay hook;
  • Present your topic and provide background information;
  • Put forth your thesis statement.

2. Body paragraph 1

  • Topic sentence with an argument to support your viewpoint;
  • Provide supporting ideas, reasonings, and elaborations;
  • More information with evidence or example;
  • Summarizing and transitioning sentence.

3. Body paragraph 2

  • Topic sentence with an argument to support your viewpoint;
  • Provide supporting ideas, reasonings, and elaborations;
  • More information with evidence or example;
  • Summarizing and transitioning sentence.

4. Body paragraph 3

  • Topic sentence with an argument to support your viewpoint;
  • Provide supporting ideas, reasonings, and elaborations;
  • More information with evidence or example;
  • Summarizing and transitioning sentence.

5. Conclusion

  • Summary of arguments;
  • Emphasize the importance of the topic;
  • Strong closing statement.

How Long Should Your Essay Outline Be

Your outline depends on your assignment. Are you writing a 1000-word essay or working on a thesis paper? Naturally, an outline for a thesis paper will definitely be longer than an outline for an essay.

With that said, your outline structure is flexible and should not be defined by your word count. Instead, the most crucial thing your outline should accomplish is that it should feel completed and have organized your essay to best serve your ideas.

Remember your outline can be continually edited and updated when you find or discover new arguments.

Your essay outline should only serve as a guideline to help you write your essay faster and more effectively when you actually get started.

Plus, it is a great way to review your ideas and work before you actually get to the writing. You can even share your outline with your professor to get their remarks.

Handy Checklist for Effective Essay Outlining

Never rush into writing once you have your outline. Give yourself a day or two to reread it and catch any mistakes.

Original: SourceMake sure you check your outline with these questions in mind:

  • Does your essay outline have a clear structure?
  • Do you have a plausible thesis statement?
  • Do your points relate back to your thesis statement?
  • Do your supporting points have relevant evidence and explanations?
  • Is there any irrelevant information or fluff that is not really necessary?
  • Is your outline organized in a logical manner?
  • Is your essay outline clear for your target audience?
  • Does your outline answer the essay prompt and requirements?
  • Are your essay arguments and points referenced from a variety of sources?

That sums it up for how to write an essay outline. Essay writing is so much easier if you started with an overview, and now it is all about exercising this habit.

Remember to always draft an outline when given an essay assignment, even if it is for a simple 500-word essay. You can write a rough draft and build it out slowly as you do more research but make sure that you check all the points in the list before you get down to writing.

last edit at Sep 25 2022