Writing an Essay Outline: Practical Tips

The purpose of an essay outline is to guide writers through the drafting process. An outline gives a brief summary of the content and sensibly and coherently organizes it. Students should know how to write an essay outline, as providing an outline of the paper might be a part of the academic assignment. Find below the tips on how to write an outline for a paper.

Step 1: Get Ready to Outline Your Paper

1. Start from reading the instructions underlining or highlighting the key points. Prior to starting an outline, make sure that you understand what is required of you. If you have any questions, ask for additional clarification.

2. Develop a topic by doing some prewriting tasks. Make a list of relevant ideas, then group similar ones together.
Use a freewriting technique by writing for 5-10 minutes nonstop without editing. Having done that read what you have exposed and highlight the most important information. Having this information as a starting point, do the exercise again. The freewriting exercise can be repeated several times until your ideas are refined and developed.

Clustering is another useful technique. Write the subject in the center and circle it followed by drawing a number of lines from the circle. At the end of each line write a new idea, then draw some lines from this idea and write new ideas that derive from the previous one. The cluster can be developed until all connections are explored.

Questioning lies in answering all types of questions (Who? What? How? Why?, etc.) in as much detail as possible to identify the areas you have to explore more.

3. Decide on the purpose. Answer the question of what you are writing your paper for: to persuade, to discuss or maybe entertain. The purpose can be figured out based on the key words in the task.

4. Who are you writing for? Think about your audience, what they expect from the paper and how they may react to it.

5. Proceed with the thesis. Once all the above steps are made, write a thesis statement which should be arguable. Instead of stating the facts provide as much detail as you can to explain and reason.

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Step 2: Decide on the Structure and Style of an Outline

1. For an easy structure follow a standard essay outline template. The most common is an alphanumeric outline. Each major heading is marked by Roman numerals; each primary point in the major paragraph is marked by capitalized letters and fleshed out with Arabic numerals while to mark the further detail lowercase letters are used.

2. To demonstrate the relation between your ideas you should use a decimal outline structure which is similar to an alphanumeric one, but in which each subsection is identified with a series of numbers starting from “1.0”. When you present new information, the number after the decimal point is changed. Thus, under the section “1.0” there will “1.1”, “1.2”, etc. To introduce further subsections add another decimal: “1.1.1”, “1.1.2” and so on.

3. Decide on the length of the sentences in the outline. In the majority of cases full sentences are more efficient.

4. Make sure the structures in the outline sections are parallel. For instance, if you begin one section with a verb in any of present tenses, make sure the second section begins with a present verb as well.

5. Make sure section titles and subordinate subsections are coordinated. It means that the information in each section title should be of equal importance to other titles of sections while the information in the subsections should be of less importance than that of main section titles.

6. Break each heading into parts. To make sure each section contains adequate information each section must be divided into several parts.

Step 3: Organize the Information in an Outline

1. Include the introduction into the initial section of the outline which should contain a gripping opening and provide general information about the essay topic. As you progress through the subsections, gradually unveil the information in the introduction making it more specific. The final subsection is the thesis statement.

The essay topic is introduced in a sentence under the first sub-point followed by the second sub-point, which describes the topic and dwells upon the issue to be explored. The thesis statement is the last sub-point. Keep these tips in mind if you want to learn how to write an outline.

2. The second section of the outline should give information about the body of an essay.
Since the essay body is the largest part, minimum three subsections are required in the outline.
Write out each point, which is explored, and support it with the relevant evidence. Each piece of evidence should be presented in a separate sub-section followed by the explanation, which analyzes the supporting evidence and shows its relevance for the claim.

3. The last section of the outline should contain the conclusion. Its purpose is to make a reference to the introductory part, which brings up the general discussion. Start with restating the thesis, but do not copy it.
Write a concluding statement, which should provide the discussion of the thesis implementations, the solution to the discussed problems or the explanation of the relevance of the thesis.

4. If it is possible, make sure you have checked the work against the assignment sheet. If it is the requirement of the assignment to write an outline, reread the assignment to see that all the points have been fulfilled. Make sure that all the instruction requirements and expectations are fully satisfied in your work. If you follow all the tips on how to do an outline, you are more likely to succeed in writing an essay.

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