How to Write an Essay Outline

How to Write an Essay Outline

Do you want to know how to write an essay outline? For majority of students, writing an outline often appears to be a tiring task and waste of time but this could not be further from the truth. An essay outline plays a crucial role in your writing process as it saves you time while drafting the essay and helps strengthen the final product.

An essay outline also provides guidance and structure as you begin the writing process. The outline is supposed to be a brief summary of the content you intend to include in the essay. You should organize it in a coherent and sensible manner.

Tips on how to write an essay outline

There is no secret recipe to knowing how to write an essay outline. All you need to do is follow a couple of basic steps some of which are highlighted below:

Step one-Preparation

Before you even begin to write your essay outline, ask yourself these questions:

  • Have you selected the appropriate topic for the essay?
  • Have you clearly understood what your instructor expects from you? Ensuring you communicate with your instructor helps save you time and lessens your worries.
  • Do you have a thesis statement? What is the point you intend to prove?
  • Have you identified your audience? Is it your instructor, strangers or classmates? Have you identified the expectations they have?

Step Two of how to write an essay outline-Decide on the basic style and structure

You have to choose the structure to use while writing your essay. The most recognized structure is known as alphanumeric outline. With this kind of outline, every subdivision is identified by use of Roman numerals, capitalized letter, Arabic numerals and lower case letters, following that order.

  • Roman numerals I, II, III, Iv etc are used for purposes of marking every section or heading. Typically, you will have 3 for your essay outline: One for the introduction, one for the body and one for the conclusion.
  • Capitalized letter A, B,C to mark every primary point within the major section
  • Arabic numerals 1, 2, 3 used to flesh out your primary points.
  • Lower case letters a, b, c etc used if there is need for additional detail.

If you want to demonstrate the manner in which different sections of the essay are related, use decimal outline structure. This kind of structure is similar to alphanumeric outline but it uses a series of numbers in order to identify every subsection. Majority of people prefer this kind of structure as it shows every the manner in which every section contributes towards the essay as a whole.

  • This kind of outline begins with: 1.0’ and is followed by other sections with different numbers (2, 3 4.)The first section therefore would be ‘1.0,’ the second ‘2.0’ while the third would be ‘3.0.’
  • Whenever new information is added, the number that is after the decimal point changes. For instance in the case of section ‘1.0’, you will have ‘1.1,’ ‘1.2,’ and ‘1.3,’

Under structure, you also have to decide on whether to use brief phrases or full sentences in the outline. In the case of an essay outline, full sentences are more useful since they make it possible for you to provide detailed information. This is true especially in cases where you have to hand in the outline to your instructor.

Anyone who knows how to write an essay outline will tell you the importance of using parallel structures. For instance, if there is one section of your outline that starts with a verb, you should write in the present tense and the section that follows should start with a verb using present tense.

While writing your essay, it is also important to coordinate subordinate section and section titles. Every section title is supposed to have information that is just as important to other subsections and section titles should they have information that is less important compared to the main section titles.

Also, you need to divide every heading into two or even more parts. To ensure the information you provide in every section is adequate, you have to divide every section into 2 or even more parts. With these tips, you will learn how to write an essay outline within the shortest time possible.

Step Three-Organizing information in the essay outline

  • Provide an introduction in the first section of the outline

This section is supposed to include general information regarding your topic. The information provided in the introduction outline is supposed to become more specific as you move from one section to another. The last subsection of the introduction outline is supposed to be the thesis statement.

  • Under your first sub-point, write a sentence introducing the essay topic and capable of grabbing the attention of the reader. An anecdote or shocking fact is an ideal way to start off.
  • Your second sub-point is supposed to describe your topic, its history, problem or the background being explored. Be certain to keep the section brief and also include information readers need to know so they can understand the essay.
  • The last sub-point is supposed to be the thesis statement. State the argument or idea you intend to discuss in the essay.
  • Provide body information in second section of the outline

The body of the essay is the largest part of your essay as such, you want to dedicate at least 3 subsections to it in your outline.

  • Every “main point” should not be labelled as such. Simply, write directly the point being explored.
  • Under every main point, writing supporting evidence that can back your point. Each piece should be accompanied by supporting evidence coupled by its own sub-section and line
  • If you so wish, include sentences that transition to the next major point at the end of every ‘main idea’ section. Note that this is not a strict necessity.
  • Provide information for the conclusion in the last section

The last part of your essay outline is supposed to contain your conclusion. The section is supposed to take the reader back to the general discussion in your ‘introduction’ section.

  • First, restate the thesis. Note you are not supposed to copy the original thesis word for word but rather, restate the idea by rephrasing it in a new manner.
  • Make your concluding statement-Often, the concluding statement discusses the implications of your thesis, proposes solutions to the issues addressed in your essay and explains the importance of the thesis.

Example 1 of an essay outline

Competitive Swimming, an Ideal Sport for Kids

  • Introduction
  • Competitive swimming provides same benefits as other sports
  1. It is a good exercise and builds muscular strength
  2. It promotes cooperation among team members, especially in relays
  • Competitive swimming provides some additional benefits
  1. Swimming is an important skill that can be used forever
  2. There is a reduced risk of injury
  3. Each swimmer can easily chart his or her own progress
  • My personal experience as a competitive swimmer
  1. I enjoy working with my coach
  2. I’ve made a lot of friends on the swim team
  • Conclusion

The sample above is from and you can apply it in order to know how to write an essay outline.

Example 2 of an essay outline

Title: Fredrick Douglass

Thesis: Fredrick Douglass played a crucial role in securing abolition of slavery and equality of African-American rights through his actions, ideas and efforts as a lecturer, author/publisher and politician.

  1. Introduction
  1. Thesis
  2. Role/arguments
  1. Douglass as a lecturer
  1. History as slave and acquisition of education
  • He ‘experienced slavery’
  • Literacy allowed expression
  1. Early lectures, including initial speech before Garrison
  1. Success of initial speech
  2. Goals for future speeches
  1. Effect of lectures on society
  • Open eyes
  • Encourage activism
  • Douglass as Author/Publisher
  1. Narrative’s success and effect
  • Springboard for paper
  1. Goals/hopes for paper
  2. Garrison set-back and significance
  3. Significance of paper
  1. Douglass as Politician
  1. Key trait for sues
  2. Goal of political activism
  3. Efforts for Republican Party
  • Significance of efforts
  1. Black soldier enlistment crusade
  2. Joining of republican party
  • Significance of efforts
  1. Conclusion
  1. Summarize arguments and efforts

The sample above is from Note the link has additional samples you can review as well.

Example 3 of an essay outline

Paragraph 1 (Introduction)

  1. Leading sentence: “It took me eighteen years to realize what an extraordinary influence my mother has been on my life”.
  2. Summary of main points: “I not only came to love the excitement of learning simply for the sake of knowing something new, but I came to understand the idea of giving back to the community in exchange for a new sense of life, love and spirit.

View the whole outline of the essay here.

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