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How to Write an Essay Outline in 3 Easy Steps

If you want to write a good essay, you need an outline. After all, an essay without an outline is chaotic, often pointless, the authors’ thoughts move illogically. This means that you need to learn how to correctly, and quickly draw up an outline. The process of writing an outline is only difficult when you do it the first time.

Step #1. Understand what makes a good outline

This is rather a pre-step than a full-fledged step. Nevertheless, it is a very important stage. 

Above all, making an outline for an essay means breaking it into fragments (parts of the text). Essentially, you mentally highlight the main stages of the path that your story will follow. Each such fragment represents a small text or a micro-text, which can equal one paragraph, a sentence, or a few words. Each micro-text will correspond to a separate point/part in the outline. It is important that the entire outline should be united by the main thought (often called a thesis statement), which has its beginning, development, and completion within its boundaries.

The titles of the separate parts of an outline should represent an expanded phrase instead of a separate word or a phrase. Individual words are too “narrow” and specific; it is rather difficult to convey the main idea or theme with them. However, complex sentences are not suitable either, because they represent an already finished, complete thought. Everything that they could convey has already been said. It is the phrase that is more suitable for the outline’s parts title. It is a kind of semantic unity that carries information in a collapsed form. And in the essay itself, this information “unfolds”, the thought is further revealed.

It is also possible to formulate the titles of an outline in the form of questions. Later in the essay, these questions must be answered.

It is important to remember that the outline carries information about how your essay is structured. An outline contains specific information about the content of each part. The writing should be guided by the outline.

Step #2. Study the problem

In any written academic work, it is of utmost importance to know and understand the topic well. Hence, when starting to write an essay outline, you should study the topic thoroughly. 

  • Firstly, this means reading the topic carefully and ascertaining that you understand what is it that constitutes the problem, and which area of academic studies it relates to. If you cannot figure out the essence of the given topic – reach out to your peer students or ask your professor. Even a few relevant questions and the answers to them can greatly expand your understanding.
  • Secondly, make sure you possess the necessary volume of knowledge to write a good essay on the given topic. Only in a rare case, a professor would give you a topic that resonates well with your existing knowledge. In most cases, an essay topic requires certain or very thorough research on behalf of a student. Head online or to the physical library and read as much literature on the topic as possible (without sacrificing time for writing an outline and an essay itself). 

Step #3. Start writing an outline

Only after you have studied the problem well and have made up your mind to compose a great essay, comes the ideal time to start writing an outline. Ideally, you should start outlining right after studying the problem – to avoid other information and life events interfering with the process. 

Any essay outline consists of the following three parts.

  1. Introduction
  2. The main part (or the body)
  3. Conclusion

But the words “introduction”, “main part”, “conclusion” should not necessarily be the names of the points of the outline. You don’t need to necessarily include them in the outline.

The introduction, as a rule, outlines the main idea, sets the tone for the whole work, “welcomes” readers into the problems (question, phenomenon) under consideration.

The main part reveals the idea of ​​the essay as well as the issues related to it, and presents a system of evidence for the provisions put forward. The main body consists of one or several arguments, starting with the most important argument and finishing off with the least important one.

The conclusion summarizes the results, and contains the final thoughts and assessments. It is a golden rule to reiterate the main thesis statement in the conclusion. Finally, a good conclusion should not be too long and should not introduce any new information or facts.