Now that the school year has begun you will be receiving several essay assignments. One way to organize your thoughts before writing is to create an essay outline.
What is an essay outline? This type of plan is simply a tool to help organize and write a stronger essay. In this article, we will discuss why writing an outline for an essay is helpful, how it will improve your writing, and how to go about creating one.
Why Create an Outline
Sitting down to write an essay can be overwhelming. Writing an outline helps alleviate some of that frustration. An outline is useful for many reasons. It will help you organize thoughts, present ideas logically and with a natural flow, and clarify your thesis and conclusion.
Find out the basic essay information with this article: What is an Essay?
Overall an outline will help you communicate your point in a clear and organized format. The structure of your essay will heavily rely on the outline you compose.
Preparing Your Outline
Before you begin writing an outline for the essay, make sure you understand the assignment. What exactly is the instructor looking for? Next up, follow these simple steps:
Develop a Topic
The first step in your outline is to identify your topic. Once you have a clear understanding of the instructor’s expectations, begin brainstorming topics that fit within the assignment. Make a list of ideas and pick the ones that peak your interest. If you are stuck between a few ideas, begin freewriting. Give yourself 5 minutes for each idea and just write everything that comes to mind without editing or stopping. The idea that inspires you the most may just be the perfect essay topic for this assignment. Essays are easier to write and read if the author is passionate about what he/she is writing.
Identify the purpose, audience, argument/ideas
Once you have developed a topic you will need to define the purpose (or the reason) for writing this essay as well as who you are writing for. By having a clear understanding of the purpose, the audience, and the necessary arguments/ideas that need to be addressed you will be better prepared to write an influential essay.
Take a second to look back over the instructions for the assignment and ask yourself the following questions.
- What are the objectives of the assignment?
- Are there keywords that stand out in the instructions?
- Are you being asked to persuade, entertain, enlighten, or educate your audience?
- Who is your audience? Is it the teacher, the other students, or someone else?
- What arguments or counter ideas might the audience have to your topic/idea?
- What emotions might these ideas bring up and how can you counterbalance them with facts?
Develop a thesis
Now that you know your topic, purpose, audience; and have developed your main arguments/ideas – it is time to write your thesis statement. A thesis is only one to two sentences long and highlights the question your essay will be answering. It does not state your opinion or list facts, but rather identifies what you will be arguing for or against within the body of your essay. Thesis statements must be accurate, clear, and on-topic.
Structuring Your Outline
Now that you have the above information, the question is: how to make an essay outline?
Decide on what structure to use. There are two main essay outline formatsto choose from: alphanumeric and decimal.
The alphanumeric format uses Roman numerals (I, II, III, IV, etc), capital letters (A, B, C, D, etc.), Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.), and lowercase letters (a, b, c, d, etc.). This one is more common than the other.
The decimal format only uses numbers. It begins with 1.0. Subsections add a decimal. The most important points under 1.0 would be 1.1, 1.2, etc. The subsections beneath 1.1 would be 1.1.1, 1.1.2, 1.1.3, etc. For a visual example of an essay outline scroll to the bottom of this article.
For the visual examples of the stated outline formats, scroll down to the bottom of this article.
Apply sub-section structure. The detailed content of your essay will be found within the sub-sections. The main sections are your fundamental ideas and arguments. The sub-sections are the facts that support them. Think of the section title as the topic sentence for your paragraph and the sub-section as the tiny details that support the topic. Your sub-sections need to flow naturally one to the other.
Integrate paragraphs into your outline. Begin fleshing out your section and subsection notes. Your introduction will need to include your topic and thesis statement. For a short essay, this only needs to be one paragraph. Refer to your assignment instructions to clarify the length. Next is the body. This section will consist of several paragraphs, each playing a supportive role for your thesis. The final section of your outline is the conclusion. This is a summary of everything you have said in your essay. Paraphrase your thesis statement and highlight the arguments made within the essay to support it.
Stuck with your essay assignment? Good news is that our writers can cope with literally any essay writing task you will get within your course. Check out our essay writing service
Essay Outline Examples
Now, it’s time to showcase the most common essay outline types. We have wrapped up the content of the article you are currently reading into an outline. Feel free to navigate within the article with the help of the provided frameworks.
Alphanumeric format essay outline sample:
Decimal format essay outline sample:
Drawing the Line
Now that you know how to use an essay outline you are well on your way to writing clear, persuasive essays. This tool is sure to help improve your writing and your grade. All that is left now is to use it.
In case there are any questions still left, you are free to skim through our essay writing guide to find helpful information on how to plan, structure and write different types of essays.
Writing an academic essay means fashioning a coherent set of ideas into an argument. Because essays are essentially linear—they offer one idea at a time—they must present their ideas in the order that makes most sense to a reader. Successfully structuring an essay means attending to a reader's logic.
The focus of such an essay predicts its structure. It dictates the information readers need to know and the order in which they need to receive it. Thus your essay's structure is necessarily unique to the main claim you're making. Although there are guidelines for constructing certain classic essay types (e.g., comparative analysis), there are no set formula.
Answering Questions: The Parts of an Essay
A typical essay contains many different kinds of information, often located in specialized parts or sections. Even short essays perform several different operations: introducing the argument, analyzing data, raising counterarguments, concluding. Introductions and conclusions have fixed places, but other parts don't. Counterargument, for example, may appear within a paragraph, as a free-standing section, as part of the beginning, or before the ending. Background material (historical context or biographical information, a summary of relevant theory or criticism, the definition of a key term) often appears at the beginning of the essay, between the introduction and the first analytical section, but might also appear near the beginning of the specific section to which it's relevant.
It's helpful to think of the different essay sections as answering a series of questions your reader might ask when encountering your thesis. (Readers should have questions. If they don't, your thesis is most likely simply an observation of fact, not an arguable claim.)
"What?" The first question to anticipate from a reader is "what": What evidence shows that the phenomenon described by your thesis is true? To answer the question you must examine your evidence, thus demonstrating the truth of your claim. This "what" or "demonstration" section comes early in the essay, often directly after the introduction. Since you're essentially reporting what you've observed, this is the part you might have most to say about when you first start writing. But be forewarned: it shouldn't take up much more than a third (often much less) of your finished essay. If it does, the essay will lack balance and may read as mere summary or description.
"How?" A reader will also want to know whether the claims of the thesis are true in all cases. The corresponding question is "how": How does the thesis stand up to the challenge of a counterargument? How does the introduction of new material—a new way of looking at the evidence, another set of sources—affect the claims you're making? Typically, an essay will include at least one "how" section. (Call it "complication" since you're responding to a reader's complicating questions.) This section usually comes after the "what," but keep in mind that an essay may complicate its argument several times depending on its length, and that counterargument alone may appear just about anywhere in an essay.
"Why?" Your reader will also want to know what's at stake in your claim: Why does your interpretation of a phenomenon matter to anyone beside you? This question addresses the larger implications of your thesis. It allows your readers to understand your essay within a larger context. In answering "why", your essay explains its own significance. Although you might gesture at this question in your introduction, the fullest answer to it properly belongs at your essay's end. If you leave it out, your readers will experience your essay as unfinished—or, worse, as pointless or insular.
Mapping an Essay
Structuring your essay according to a reader's logic means examining your thesis and anticipating what a reader needs to know, and in what sequence, in order to grasp and be convinced by your argument as it unfolds. The easiest way to do this is to map the essay's ideas via a written narrative. Such an account will give you a preliminary record of your ideas, and will allow you to remind yourself at every turn of the reader's needs in understanding your idea.
Essay maps ask you to predict where your reader will expect background information, counterargument, close analysis of a primary source, or a turn to secondary source material. Essay maps are not concerned with paragraphs so much as with sections of an essay. They anticipate the major argumentative moves you expect your essay to make. Try making your map like this:
- State your thesis in a sentence or two, then write another sentence saying why it's important to make that claim. Indicate, in other words, what a reader might learn by exploring the claim with you. Here you're anticipating your answer to the "why" question that you'll eventually flesh out in your conclusion.
- Begin your next sentence like this: "To be convinced by my claim, the first thing a reader needs to know is . . ." Then say why that's the first thing a reader needs to know, and name one or two items of evidence you think will make the case. This will start you off on answering the "what" question. (Alternately, you may find that the first thing your reader needs to know is some background information.)
- Begin each of the following sentences like this: "The next thing my reader needs to know is . . ." Once again, say why, and name some evidence. Continue until you've mapped out your essay.
Your map should naturally take you through some preliminary answers to the basic questions of what, how, and why. It is not a contract, though—the order in which the ideas appear is not a rigid one. Essay maps are flexible; they evolve with your ideas.
Signs of Trouble
A common structural flaw in college essays is the "walk-through" (also labeled "summary" or "description"). Walk-through essays follow the structure of their sources rather than establishing their own. Such essays generally have a descriptive thesis rather than an argumentative one. Be wary of paragraph openers that lead off with "time" words ("first," "next," "after," "then") or "listing" words ("also," "another," "in addition"). Although they don't always signal trouble, these paragraph openers often indicate that an essay's thesis and structure need work: they suggest that the essay simply reproduces the chronology of the source text (in the case of time words: first this happens, then that, and afterwards another thing . . . ) or simply lists example after example ("In addition, the use of color indicates another way that the painting differentiates between good and evil").
Copyright 2000, Elizabeth Abrams, for the Writing Center at Harvard University