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How to Write an Essay Outline – Steps & Examples

Published by at November 1st, 2021 , Revised On February 1, 2024

Plan 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 picture 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 to enable 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; an essay discussing politics could be the critical decision that led to historical changes.

In most cases, your essay outline will centre around a three-theme approach. You can divide the three themes into three body paragraphs for high school essays. A university-level essay 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

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

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Examples of Essay Outlines

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

Literary Analysis Essay Outline

The literary analysis outline example below emphasises 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.

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Expository Essay Outline

Here is an example outline for an expository essay summarising 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.

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.

Narrative Essay Outline

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

Frequently Asked Questions

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.

  1. Shape your ideas 
  2. Categorise information 
  3. Decide the sequence of material 
  4. Present your points as short phrases and sentences

An outline in an essay refers to a structured plan that provides an overview of the main points and ideas to be discussed. It serves as a guide that helps writers organise and present their thoughts coherently and logically.

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