How to Write an Essay Outline

Published by at November 1st, 2021 , Revised On January 13, 2022

It would be best if you planned the structure of your essay before you start writing. An essay outline is perhaps one of the most underrated aspects of the essay writing process. It allows the author to paint a picture of how the argument will develop by writing short phrases or summary sentences for each paragraph.

You may need to complete and hand in an outline in some cases before writing the essay. But even if you don’t need to submit one, it is recommended to develop an essay outline, so you don’t get off track.

Shape up your ideas

At this first stage of the essay writing process, your ideas have not yet been shaped into a structured format. Ensure you fully understand the topic you are pursuing and have done some initial research on gathering sources and giving the essay a structured flow.

Categorise information

Categorising information is the next step in writing an essay outline. Go through the information, ideas, and data you’ve gathered and establish the main argument you want to make in the essay – this will form the basis of your thesis statement. Once you have a clear idea about the main point of your essay, you can organise the information in a way that enables you to address the thesis statement.

Try and arrange the information into sections relating to different facets of your argument. For example, if you’re writing about a literary text, you may assemble your thoughts into themes; In an essay discussing politics, it could be the critical decisions that led to historical changes.

In most cases, your essay outline will centre around a three-theme approach. For a high school essay, you can divide the three themes into three body paragraphs. For a university-level essay, they can be split into three long sections, each comprising several paragraphs.

When creating the outline, critically analyse the points and sections to determine if any of them are redundant. It is essential to make sure every idea you cover is directly connected to your thesis statement.

Order of material

Once you have organised the information into several sections, the next step is to decide the sequence they appear in the essay. An essay always begins with an introduction and ends with a conclusion, but how you organise the essay’s body is entirely up to you.

Take into consideration the following points when choosing what order the material appears.

  • Is there an evident beginning of your argument?
  • Is there a subject that helps with an easy transition into another?
  • Do you need to discuss specific topics first to set up your key argument?

Presentation of the essay outline

You will discuss a single idea related to your main argument in each paragraph, using points of analysis and evidence.

You can present these points as short phrases or full sentences. Broader issues can be split into sub-points.

The following template highlights how a five-paragraph essay should be structured:

Essay outline example

Introduction

  1. Hook
  2. Background
  3. Thesis Statement

Theme one

  1. Topic sentence: First answer/example to question.
  2. First piece of evidence.
  3. Second piece of evidence.

Theme two

  1. Topic sentence: Second answer/example to question.
  2. First piece of evidence.
  3. Second piece of evidence.

Theme three

  1. Topic sentence: Third answer/example to question.
  2. First piece of evidence.
  3. Second piece of evidence.

Conclusion

  1. Summarise your argument.
  2. Extend the argument
  3. Show why the text is of significance.

The essayist can choose whether to write the outline in full sentences or key bullet points; both methods are effective. However, it is essential to be consistent in your choice.

Also read: How to shorten an essay

Examples of essay outlines

Here are examples of outlines for different types of essays, including literary analysis, expository, narrative, and argumentative essays.

Literary analysis essay outline

The literary analysis outline example below emphasizes the theme of coming of age in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “By the Shores of Silver Lake.”

The essay’s main body comprises three themes, each of which will be examined through examples.

Introduction

  1. Describe the relationship between the main character Laura and the theme of coming of age.
  2. Emphasize the significance of Laura’s older sister, Mary, losing her sight due to scarlet fever.
  3. Set up your research question: Why Laura must suddenly take on the role of the oldest child in the family and grow in maturity when her eldest sister, Mary, loses her sight.

Link with the previous novels

  1. Discuss the typical sibling relationship between Laura and Mary in the previous novels.
  2. Analyse how their relationship changed after Mary’s rapidly fading eyesight.

Impact of Mary’s blindness on the family

  1. Discuss how Laura’s responsibilities increase because Mary can no longer see to care for herself.
  2. Describe how Mary’s blindness turns Laura’s life upside down because Laura is responsible for Mary’s safety and wellbeing.

The burden of Laura’s responsibilities

  1. Laura must “see out loud” for Mary, as id descrived in the chapter “Riding the Cars.”
  2. Give details of the heavy burden Laura carries.

Conclusion

  1. Provide a summary of the three themes: Link with previous novels, the impact of Mary’s blindness on the family, and the burden of Laura’s responsibilities.

Expository essay outline

Here is an example outline for an expository essay summarizing how the conquest of Mecca in December 629 marked the beginning of the Golden Islamic Age.

The paragraphs in the outline are summarised in short phrases, while the answers are provided in full sentences.

Introduction

  1. Claim that the conquest of Makkah marked the beginning of the Golden Islamic Age.
  2. Provide background on the circumstances that led to the siege of Mecca.
  3. Write the thesis statement: The event marked the end of the ongoing wars between Muslims and the Quraysh tribe of Mecca and allowed Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to unite Arabia into a single Muslim religious polity.

Circumstances leading to the epic clash

  1. Discuss the cruel and harrowing experience of living in Mecca as a Muslim.
  2. Mention the expulsion of Muslims from Mecca after Muhammad claimed that he was the prophet of Allah (God).
  3. Describe how this forced Muslims to migrate from Mecca and find refuge in Medina.

Regrouping in Medina

  1. Explain Muhammad’s departure from Mecca under threat from the city’s power elite and his regrouping in Medina.
  2. Discuss how Christian King, Al-Najashi, came to Muslims’ aid as his kingdom provided shelter to the Muslim emigrants.

The beginning of the golden Islamic Age

  1. Describe the event of the conquering of Mecca’s town by Muslims led by the Islamic prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
  2. Provide insight into the circumstances that encouraged volunteers and contingents from allied tribes to join the Muslim army.
  3. Map out the tactics employed by the Muslim army during the assault on Mecca.

Conclusion

  1. A summary of the historical event explained.
  2. Emphasize the significance of the conquest of Mecca in medieval times. Argumentative essay outline

Argumentative essay outline

The following outline is for an argumentative essay examining the impact of online learning on conventional public libraries. It presents each point using short phrases.

The main body comprises three paragraphs, each providing arguments about the effects of online learning on the role of public libraries.

Introduction

  1. The significance of online learning programmes.
  2. The impact of e-learning on public libraries.
  3. Thesis statement: Public libraries should be shut down and, in their place, everyone should be given an iPad with an e-reader subscription.

Libraries are expensive to maintain

  1. Shutting down libraries will save local cities and towns money.
  2. More people will read because they won’t have to travel to the library.
  3. People will get access to more materials without having to buy physical copies of the books.

A severe mistake to replace libraries with tablets

  1. People read 20—30% slower on tablets and retain 20% less information when using digital resources.
  2. Staring too long at a screen can causing health problems.
  3. People will not be able to read online in the event of an internet shutdown or partial blackout.

Libraries are more than lending books

  1. There are numerous benefits of service libraries, with many only available if the library has a physical location.
  2. Physical libraries can organize community events for children and senior citizens.
  3. One-third of the UK population see libraries as a necessary component of their community system.

Conclusion

  1. A summary of the arguments presented.
  2. The advantages of public libraries over digital learning.
  3. Emphasize the importance of public libraries to the community network.

Narrative essay outline

Just like other essay types, a functional outline is essential for a narrative essay. Here is how you can structure an outline for your narrative essay.

Introduction

  1. Hook
  2. Significance of topic to you and reader
  3. Thesis statement

Body paragraphs

  1. Setting, background about the event
  2. Characters (people involved)
  3. Short anecdote or foreshadowing
  4. Onset of the event
  5. Climax
  6. Ending or resolution

Conclusion

  1. Moral of the story
  2. Significance of the overall subject
  3. Call-to-action (if applicable)

You could be asked to submit an essay outline before starting to write the essay in some cases. Your tutor might want to examine the outline structure to be certain that you have a clear understanding of how to develop your argument.

However, whether or not your tutor asks you to make an essay outline, it is recommended to write one before you start writing the essay. Once you have established the points that will be covered in the essay and the structure you will follow, it becomes so much easier to write a first-class essay.

If the essay outline is part of the essay assignment, then it is always good to follow the specific guidelines confirming whether you need to use full sentences or short phrases to summarise the key points. If you are unsure, ask your tutor.

On the other hand, if you make the essay outline for yourself, then the decision rests with you. Some students prefer writing full sentences, while others use simple short phrases for summarising their ideas.

While you should do your best to follow the outline, y might need to change your essay outline as your ideas evolve. It’s perfectly OK to restructure and improve the outline if there is a clear need to do so.

About Ellie Cross

I am Content Manager at this prestigious organization who has been assisting students for a long time. I have been part of Essays UK since its inception and have seen all the ups and downs it has faced in all those years. I manage a growing team of great writers and content marketers who are contributing to a great extent to help students with their academics.