Understanding Essay Outline Format

Understanding Essay Outline Format

An essay outline can be defined as a blueprint of your academic paper. In other words, an essay outline is a map that shows the structure of your paper. It is vital in writing because it helps you organize different thoughts and arguments systematically. When choosing an essay outline format, it is essential to visualize the content of your paper from the introduction to the conclusion paragraph and pick on a suitable structure.

A good outline format makes the research process, prior to writing your essay enjoyable since you know what you are looking for. You are likely to encounter minimal or no structure when you start your essays with an outline.

Elements of a good essay outline format

While outline formats for essays may differ widely, a standard format must consist of the following components:

  • Paper Title– have a catchy title that makes the reader curious to know the content of your essay by reading on
  • Thesis statement-this is the argument, which you intend to defend in the essay using well-researched evidence. It comes at the end of the introduction paragraph.
  • Main points– These are your arguments and they should be indicated in Roman numerical i.e. I, II, III, IV
  • Support evidence. This adds weight to your main points and links your arguments with the thesis statement. Support evidence should be indicated by capital Arabic numerals (i.e., A, B, C, D, E, etc.)

Using this format, the introduction should be your Roman numerical I. Here, tell your reader the purpose of the paper in an appetizing way to arrest their attention and desire to read on. Give the overview of your essay and the thesis statement since it is the compass of your write-up.

The final numerical should be the conclusion. Here, you summarize the main arguments of your essay and restate your thesis. This section signals close of the paper and should have a tone that prepares the reader to conclude reading.

The following essay outline format will help you understand the elements discussed above. Your essay may contain more or less elements depending on what you want to achieve. Take a look.

Sample #1: Essay Outline

This sample is for a literary analysis essay

  • Catchy Title
  1. Paragraph 1: Introduction
  2. Hook
  3. Author
  4. Title
  5. Main characters
  6. Brief summary
  7. Thesis

III. Paragraph 2: First Body Paragraph

  1. Topic sentence (what the paragraph is discussing, how it supports your thesis.)
  2. Context for the quote
  3. Name of the character who says it
  4. Contextualize the quote
  5. Quote from the text
  6. Analyze how the quote supports you thesis
  7. Closing sentence (give a summary of the issue and transit to the nest paragraph.
  • Paragraph 3: Second Body Paragraph

Apply same treatment as in paragraph 1

  • Paragraph 4: Third Body Paragraph
  1. Conclusion (your last paragraph should have the following):
  2. Recap of the key points.
  3. Extend the argument.
  4. State the importance of your research or essay.

You can access the full sample outline format here.

Important types of essay outline formats you should know

Essay formats differ in different ways. Some of the factors, which determine the format to use, are:

  • Your area of study. Some fields recommend specific outline formats to use in all written assignments.
  • Type of essay. Essays like literary analysis essay are written using a specific outline format like the one we have discussed above.
  • Your knowledge. It is important to use an outline format, which does not trouble you. Choose the one you are comfortable with

Here are common outline formats to consider when writing your essay:

  • Alphanumeric Outlines
  • Full Sentence Outlines
  • Decimal Outlines

Let us look at each of the above essay outlines formats in details:

Alphanumerical outlines

It is a widely used type of outline and many people are able to recognize it. The formatting of this outline takes the order below with characters as indicated.

  • Roman Numerals
  • Capitalized Letters
  • Arabic Numerals
  • Lowercase Letters

In case you want to subdivide the outline further than the above sections, it is advisable to use Arabic numerical in parentheses followed by lower case letters also in parentheses.

The following sample illustrates how alphanumerical outlines look like:

Alphanumeric Outline Sample #2


  2. Do an analysis of college campuses
  3. Evaluate college websites
  4. Choose interesting classes
  5. Capture relevant statistics
  7. Write personal statement
  8. Choose a catchy topic
  9. Tell a famous person in your life

(1) Your favorite teacher in high school

(2) Granny

  1. Paint an interesting event in your life
  2. Note down important personal details
  3. Unpaid assistant job
  4. Participation in college sports
  5. Revisit your personal statement


  1. Capture relevant coursework
  2. What is your work experience?
  3. List volunteer experience
  4. Tutor
  5. Counselor

This essay outline format from Purdue website shows key elements to capture when you choose the alphanumerical approach. From the introduction to the conclusion, it breaks the essay into smaller sections. You can access it here.

4 important Questions which the above outline should answers:

  1. What is the assignment?
  2. What is the aim of the essay?
  3. Who is the intended audience?
  4. What is the s thesis statement?

Full Sentence Outlines

Full sentence outline is similar to the alphanumerical format. However, the main difference is that you give a sentence at each level of the format.

It is a common outline format when writing a traditional essay.

By considering an essay like Pros and Cons of Corporations, a full sentence outline for the essay would look like:

Practical Example

  1. A corporation is an advanced and multifaceted business.
  2. Corporations have merits and demerit when compared to other forms of businesses.
  3. The level of risk involved in running a corporation is low.

When using full sentence outlines, it is important to note that they are accompanied by a list of references formatted in APA style on a different page.

Remember to include in-text citation in case you use quotes in your outline.

Decimal Outlines

It is similar to alphanumerical format. However, from what the name suggests, this essay outline format has an added advantage of decimal notation. This arrangement is important because it shows how different sections of the essay relate to the rest of the paper.

How decimal outline format appears


1.1. Do an analysis of college campuses

1.2 Evaluate college websites

1.2.1 Choose interesting classes

1.2.2 Capture relevant statistics

This example shows that you can transform alphanumerical essay format into decimal by simply changing the numbering system. Click this link to view it.

Why you should understand the outline format of your essay

The first step when you have an essay assignment is developing an outline format to follow. This will give you a clear road map to follow from the introduction to the conclusion of your essay. A good outline format has a range of benefits, which are well articulated in this section.

  • Helps you to clarify thoughts

An effective essay outline format will enhance your development of ideas. You are likely to find a blank page to be more intimidating when you are assigned an essay assignment by your tutor.

As the first task when working on your writing project, the outline will act as a brainstorming tool. With this, you will narrow down to important ideas, which you want to include in your essay.

In addition, an outline format is important in identifying the specifics of your essay from the general topic you have in the beginning.

  • An outline format helps you identify essay weaknesses

Since an essay outline breaks the text into different sections like the main idea, evidence and supporting details. Thus, as you draft this outline, it is possible to identify weak arguments and develop them to become stronger.

An outline will also help identify points, which are out of place. At this level of writing, you have the allowance to make adjustments and come up with logical flow of ideas.

  • An outline helps you stay on target

With a good essay outline format, your writing project remains focused. It ensures that your arguments do not go off the tangent with misplaced evidence and supporting details. This will ensure that all your ideas in the essay have the best-intended impact.

  • A good essay outline will save your time

No one has all the time to spend on an essay assignment. An essay outline allows you to write systematically thus saving your time. If you do a good job, you can use your outline sentences as topical sentences when developing your body.

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