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 formats to 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.
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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.