How to Write an Essay Outline – Step by Step

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essay outline

How exactly do you write an essay outline?

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You choose a topic, research widely about it and take a stand. Draft in point form all the points and select the strongest.

Essay outlines are popular, especially in dissertations and other lengthy pieces of academic writing. Most professors may want you to present your first draft or an outline.

An essay outline gives you the chance to shape the direction of your writing. An overview is the most crucial step when writing a high-quality article. And just like if a builder relies on the architecture’s blueprint, so does a writer need an outline!

An outline briefly summarizes and maps the content you intend to put into your essay and then organizes it in a coherent, logical manner.

Most students tasked with an assignment requiring them to write an essay find it daunting, especially at the beginning. You might see yourself gazing at a blank page wondering about what to do next, even when you are provided with the title but this should not discourage you since you can seek help from a last minute essay writing service.

How to Write an Essay Outline

The most significant thing you should do at the point is to relax! Sounds wary? Probably! However, with a proper outline, you will find that you can write any essay with relative ease, to the point of even exceeding the word count!

The following guidelines should direct you on to prepare an essay outline irrespective of the subject or purpose:

1. Understand the essay requirements

Before you embark on the process of drafting your essay outline, make sure to read and fully comprehend the instructions your professor provides. From your readings and analysis of the resources, you can prepare simple notes, generate ideas, and collect evidence that you will use in the essay. If anything is unclear, you can consult your lecturer for further clarification until you are sure of what is required from you.

2. Categorize your points

Generalizing involves going through the individual pieces of information you have gathered, analyzing each of those, and organizing them into categories. At this point, your goals should be to organize your ideas and the material that you will use in the essay. The exercise develops the topic of your essay and the supporting documents.

This also ensures that your essay outline will contain relevant and orderly information that will best support the arguments you make in the essay. This is best achieved if you break down your notes or points into categories and arrange them reasonably.

An example of a question that you can ask yourself under this step is, “If I were to classify or organize this information into classes, where would each piece of information fall?”

Assuming you were writing about air pollution, you can have information categorized into:

  • Meaning of air pollution
  • Significant sources of air pollution
  • Air pollution policies across the world in a specific country/state
  • Mitigation of air pollution and,
  • Future reduction of air pollution, among other categories.

As you review your notes and materials, assign information to the categories you have developed. Repeat the process for every group with which you come up. Your goal here should be to trim down your information or notes such that they can constitute preferably one or a half pages of category lists.

Once you have established your category headings, review them to determine whether there is any redundancy or repetitiveness altogether. For instance, in the above example, the categories of air pollution mitigation and future reduction of air pollution can be combined to make a single heading.

Also, eliminate any categories that you might deem irrelevant to your argument. Generalize further by condensing your information such that you have few groups, but which covers a whole topic in your essay.

A suitable analogy to help in the last part above is to assume that you are filing information you have gathered into cabinets. Ask yourself, “which cabinet would I put each piece of information, and what label I would assign to each cabinet?” Assume that your cabinets are the various categories of information you have determined, and the label is each heading. Putting data into the shelves would correspond to the points that you will argue under each category.

A common practice in developing essay outlines is to ensure that the categories are generalized as possible and fall under the range of 3-4 for an essay of 7-10 pages.

3. Have the importance of essay outline benefits in mind

Learning to write good essays is not only going to help you through your school life but also your professional endeavors. You’ll learn to communicate effectively both at school in the workplace. Writing an essay outline lies right at the center of this, and you’ll gain so many other benefits!

  • Clarify your thoughts

Writing starts with a black page and then ends up with a document that communicates your thoughts. An outline helps present those thoughts in an organized manner. It’s like a road map that enables you to clarify your thoughts and know which points make sense in supporting the argument.

  • Remove weak arguments

When writing the outline, you will learn that some of your points are baseless and are best left unsaid. You will leave out the weak arguments as long as they don’t have enough supporting material.

  • Save your time!

Organized work is always easier to do. You will only have a few minutes to complete writing an essay, especially during exams. An outline provides a step-by-step way of answering the question at hand, and that saves your time. The outline is the skeleton upon which you will add the flesh (details).

  • Uphold relevance

When making an argument, there’s a chanting temptation to use personal opinions and trivia. An outline ensures you tow to the line and remains on topic. You stay focused and organized on hitting the target.

  • Stay neat!

You don’t want to delete paragraphs every time you write them. Mostly, you don’t want to make your work “shady” and cancel pages of content in the exam room. For sure, you neither have the luxury of time nor space. An essay outline ensures that you only write points, you are sure. And, neat, organized essays fetch more marks during the marking process!

4. Stick to the ideal structure an essay

Once you have categorized your points, your next step should be to organize your essay outline in a logical and standard manner. Usually, all essays are organized into an introduction, the body part, and the conclusion part.

The introduction should occupy the first section of your essay outline. Your introduction subsections in the essay outline can include:

  • First sub-point: A sentence introducing the topic of the essay usually phrased to capture the reader’s attention
  • The second subpoint: Should describe the problem, including factors such as background or history of the issue being explored.
  • Final sub-point: Should include the thesis statement of your essay.

Your essay outline’s body part is conventionally the most extensive section since the same is true with the final essay draft. Usually, the body part comprises at least three subsections in the outline.

Each subsection under the body part also corresponds to a heading or sub-heading in your essay outline. You can include short points that will correspond to the paragraphs of each subsection in your essay outline.

The conclusion section of your essay outline will come last, although you can have a further section to list your references or sources of information. Your conclusion part in the essay outline should rephrase your thesis statement and final declaration.

Once you have accomplished all the steps discussed above, your essay outline is ready, and you can now begin writing a draft of your essay. Learn how to write a last minute essay.

If you are having problems writing an essay outline, Gudwriter can help draft an effective essay outline.

Sample Essay Outline Format

Title of the essay

  • Introduction

An essay introduction is a creative opening to catch the audience’s attention. Students can use quotes, interesting facts, and figures, jokes or anecdotes, etc. The introduction is essentially made of two parts. That is the background and the thesis statement.

Background information should introduce the problem or issue being studied to the reader. It also highlights how far previous studies have gone with the topic and the gaps in the previous works. The goal of writing a brief background of the topic you are writing is to instill the confidence of the readers in your analysis.

The thesis statement affirms the main subject and stands of the essay. It also provides a preview of the main points of the essay. It shows the reader the content of the essay, helping them understand what they are reading about. The thesis statement a lot to some extent, tells the reader how the essay will be organized, and all this is usually in a single sentence. The best place to locate the thesis statement is at the end of the introduction.

  • Body                                           

Paragraph 1

Have a topic sentence to state the main idea of the paragraph and transitions from the previous section.

Include supporting details that defend or strengthen the topic sentence. Use at least two supportive details in each paragraph.

These ideal reinforcements may consist of facts, examples, and expert opinions about a specific subject. If primary or secondary sources are used, students must use in-text citations.

Paragraph 2

Write up a topic sentence states the main idea of the paragraph and transitions from the previous paragraph.

Have supportive sentences to defend or strengthen the topic sentence.

Paragraph 3

Then, have a third paragraph that raises a third point. Ensure the opening sentence states the main idea of the paragraph.

It’s here you then write many points as possible to support your topic sentence. Include statistics, logic, illustrations, and all other scientific findings. (NOTE: More paragraphs can be created using the same format.)

  • Conclusion

Restate your thesis statement. Students should reword the thesis statement. Show that your points make

Summarize the main points. Use this opportunity to prove to the audience that you have maximum faith in your raised points.

Tie to Opening. Students should relate their conclusion to the opening of the essay.

Essay Outline Template

I. Introduction

  1. Hook
  2. Background information
  3. Thesis statement

II. Body Paragraph 1

A. Topic sentence

  1. Supporting point 1
  2. Supporting point 2

Transition to the next paragraph

III. Body Paragraph 2

B. Topic sentence

  1. Supporting point 1
  2. Supporting point 2

Transition to the next paragraph

IV. Body Paragraph 3

C. Topic sentence

  1. Supporting point 1
  2. Supporting point 2

Transition to the next paragraph

V. Conclusion

  1. Restate thesis statement
  2. Summarize the main points
  3. Concluding thoughts

Read more on spatial order examples – with outline.


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