What Is an Outline in Essay Writing?

How to Write an Essay Outline

It sometimes takes an eternity to develop an outstanding essay that will appeal to the academic mind of the reader. Researching, structuring, researching again, then double-checking – all these fundamental yet draining aspects of writing an essay make the process pretty overwhelming. As a result, writers start searching for how to write an essay outline, which is quite a reasonable solution to get through the “essay syndrome” nightmare.

So, what is an essay outline? It’s the summary of your essay, a plan used to organize a piece of academic writing and make it focused and concise. We thought you might want to know some key steps and principles of how to write an essay outline, so we developed this comprehensive guide for you!

How to Write an Essay Outline: An All-Around Guide

Outlining your essay is primarily aimed to discipline your thoughts and ideas, placing them in your essay in a logical and coherent manner. Otherwise, your writing will look messy and disorderly, which will blatantly suggest of poor writing skills.

Before you get down to developing the skeleton of your essay, otherwise known as an outline, you need to consider thoroughly some essay writing guidelines.

The prerequisites of essay outlining

1. Give it purpose
This is the key step of the entire essay creation process. As soon as you peruse the provided requirements and instructions for your essay, move on to brainstorming the possible purposes that meet the given requisites for your academic work. Having a clear purpose for your essay will give you a vivid understanding of how to write it and what it should be like. Also, this will help you make your essay more influential and coherent.

2. Develop the topic
Uniting the purpose of your essay, with all of its arguments and ideas, into one general idea, known as a topic, is the second most important step of architecting your essay. Come up with the topic of your essay based on the aforementioned elements: center it around its purpose (if there’s more than one, then consider all of them), arguments, and the ideas you’ve generated.

3. Develop a thesis statement
A thesis statement expresses the main idea of your essay and answers its main question. It demonstrates what you will be arguing in your essay. The thesis statement has to be strictly specific, clear, and accurate. And when it comes to how to write an informative essay outline, refining your thesis statement is especially crucial.

Writing an Essay Outline: Here We Arrive

Now that we’ve come closer to the steps to write an essay outline, it’s important to highlight that an essay comprises four major components:

  • Introduction
  • Thesis
  • Body
  • Conclusion

Each of these components is supposed to be included in your outline and used as one of its main topics. Subsequently, your outline will feature four main topics. Every topic may or may not fall into subtopics based on what is needed.

Outlining formats

Before structuring the topics and subtopics of your essay, let’s expound on the two major ways of doing it. There are two formats whereby you can outline your essay: alphanumeric and decimal.

The alphanumeric format is represented by Roman numerals (I, II, III, IV), capital letters that indicate subtopics (A, B, C, D), Arabic numerals (1,2,3,4), and lowercase letters (a,b,c,d), which are used in accordance with the subheadings. Check out the example below.

Let’s say the topic of your essay is “the current tendencies of American postmodern literature.” This is what an extract of your outline will look like:

I. Introduction
II. Overview of American postmodernism today
A. Most prominent representatives
1. The writers influenced by Thomas Pynchon’s novels
a. Pynchon’s followers who write prose

Now, let’s view the other format, decimal. It uses numbers only: 1.0, 1.1, 2.0. 3.0. With this format, another level of subheadings will accordingly add another decimal: 1.1, 1.1.1, 1.1.2; the same with 2.0: 2.1, 2.1.1, etc. Here’s how your outline will look using the decimal format:

1.0 Introduction
2.0 Overview of American postmodernism today
2.1 Most prominent representatives
2.1.1 The writers influenced by Thomas Pynchon’s novel
2.1.2 Pynchon’s followers who write prose

Organizing your outline

  • The opening section of your outline, the introduction, may or may not be divided into subheadings. It all depends on whether you include any important information in it that needs to be classified and structured. But if you do subdivide your introduction, keep in mind that the information you provide should be more specific as you add the subsections.
  • The sections following your introduction make up the body of your outline, so they have to be substantial and informative. You should expand these sections by including at least three subsections to them.
  • The last section of your outline has to feature its conclusion. There, you should restate your thesis, paraphrasing it as well as putting forward the solutions to the problems your essay deals with.

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