Essay Outline: Comprehensive Guide for Students

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Essay Outline: What is it, and why should I use it?

One of the primary planning techniques used by students when engaging in academic writing is the essay outline. However, students aren't the only ones that use this tool. Professional writers frequently use outlines when writing encyclopedias, informative guides, scholarly articles, and novels. To be most effective at strengthening the writing process, sources must be organized based upon their relevance.

Essay Outline: Formats

Different formats may be used when engaging in an essay outline. For college students, the essay outline formats most frequently used are MLA and APA. Regardless of the format being used, students follow the same general organizational process. However, there are some differences. For instance, APA requires the use of abstracts because the essay outline is required to have at least one sentence per line. A bonus fact is that APA is usually used in the Humanities department while the Social Sciences department at most universities prefers MLA format.

Essay Outline: What to do first?

While developing your outline, it is vital to keep in mind the target length of the assignment. This means to be aware of the required word/page count for the assignment. Students are full of great ideas, and the essay outline helps in the decision-making process, where the number of ideas to be developed, and in what order they will be developed, will be decided. For a 1,000 word essay with five supporting arguments, each argument would only have an allocation of about 150 words. This means that you must decide if the allocated word count would be sufficient to develop the individual arguments sufficiently. When making these decisions, each of the arguments must be developed equally and have equal relevance to the topic. This means that having one argument with 500 words and another argument with 100 words is likely not appropriate and should be rethought. Finally, to write an appropriate essay outline, you need to know or have several things. First, you need to know the topic. Second, you need to know how long the assignment should be. Third, you need a thesis statement. Finally, you need supporting arguments for the thesis statement, where each argument is equally relevant and can be developed within the scope of the assignment requirements.

Importance and Advantages

The synopsis of the assignment typically tells you what points need to be covered and in what order they need to be covered. Thus, the assignment synopsis gives you the information needed to develop an effective method of writing all three parts of the essay -- introduction, body, and conclusion. Even with this information, there are advantages to using the essay outline, such as brainstorming, establishing a logical flow, and ensuring there is a clear outcome.

What to do before outlining?

As every good chef knows, you need to assemble the ingredients before you can whip up a delicious meal. In this case, you need the following before you even begin penning your outline down:

  • A topic: This is quite obvious. Never fall into the habit of simply picking up the pen and writing about the first thing you think of. At university, they usually provide you with a topic, so that is one task you can check off your to-do list.
  • An approximation of the assignment's length: Again, this task is also usually completed by your university. However, remember that organizing your paragraphs becomes much easier if you have a certain word limit for each paragraph.
  • A thesis statement: This is when you have to put that brain to work. Your thesis statement sums up your entire idea in one sentence, which makes it the most important part of your assignment.
  • Supporting arguments to back up your thesis: Jot down all the arguments you might have thought of or researched about on some notepaper. Now, cut out any weak arguments until you are left with few solid ones that will drive your point home. Now list them according to priority and assign each argument its paragraph (with a word limit, of course).

Importance of essay outlining

You might be wondering why this method trumps the old introduction-body-conclusion one. This is because of quite a few reasons:

  • The more structured your argument is, the easier it will be for the reader to follow it and ultimately agree with you.
  • You will never forget that important piece of information that is vital to your essay ever again.
  • Your essay will demonstrate a high level of clarity and logic.
  • In conclusion, writing an essay outline before actually writing your essay will convince your professor to grade you higher.

How to Write an Essay Outline

Crafting an essay outline is a great tool for organizing your essay. Every piece of writing involves elements of creative ingenuity and rigorous use of logic. As a writer, you should create essays that are creative enough to attract the interest of an audience. You should also give your essay a logical structure that allows the reader to easily understand the evidence and the logical flow of your essay. Essay outlines save you time because your completed outline will already have the main ideas of your essay clearly stated. They also serve as important guides that you can return to time and again while drafting, revising, and editing the drafts of your essay.

An essay outline gives the basic structure of your essay. The outline helps you determine what points you want to make and where you want to make them in the essay. You can structure essays into the following sections: the introduction, body, and conclusion. An essay outline will have this same format. You will fill in the details of your outline with the most important points, evidence, and examples that add support to your main points.

Choose a Structure

There are numerous ways to format an essay outline. Three of the most widely-used methods are the alphanumeric, the full sentence, and the decimal outline methods.

Alphanumeric Structure Style

The alphanumeric outline method relies on Roman numerals to organize the essay's main headings. You can further subdivide the outline using capitalized letters, Arabic numerals, and lowercase letters. You can even subdivide the outline beyond those levels if necessary. Roman numerals are used at the first level, and capitalized letters are used for the second level. Third level subtitles are created using Arabic numerals. Alphabetical letters are used to further subdivide the outline into the fourth level.

Full Sentence Style

For all intents and purposes, the full sentence is the same as the alphanumeric outline method. The only important difference is that each heading, topic, and subtopic is given its full sentence. This outline gives you the distinct advantage of starting your paper with fully formed thoughts on the main headings, topics, and sub-topics of your essay.

Decimal Structure Style

The decimal outline lists your main points using Arabic numerals. It also uses decimals to indicate the different topics and subheadings that follow them. The Arabic numeral "1" will indicate the first main topic, whereas "1.3" would denote the third subheading of the first main topic, for example.

Essay Outline Template

Writing an essay can be difficult. You must find the perfect balance of writing with creativity and logic. An essay outline will allow you to organize your thoughts and determine the best order to present them in.

To create a template, you will require a list of sections that will exist within your paper. The sections of your essay will vary depending upon the type of essay. An essay outline will act as the foundation for your writing. From here, you can build upon and present ideas with ease and clarity.

Expository Outline

An expository essay is often mistaken for an argumentative essay. However, this is not the case. Expository essays lack the writer's opinions and emotions. In expository essays, you investigate a topic, present evidence without bias, and present a conclusion. A solid essay outline can help distinguish the subtle differences between an expository and an argumentative essay. An example of this outline is:

  • Introduction = present the topic
  • Thesis statement
  • Body Paragraphs
  • Topic Sentence 1 = supporting evidence + analysis
  • Transition sentence
  • Topic Sentence 2 = supporting evidence + analysis
  • Transition sentence
  • Topic Sentence 3 = supporting evidence + analysis
  • Transition sentence
  • Conclusion = summarize the main points within your paper.

Your final step is to provide the reader with solutions, insight into the importance of the topic, and how other topics could be expanded upon in another paper.

Argumentative Outline

Argumentative essays have a well-established history in the world of writing. An argumentative essay is used to make a claim. After making your claim about a topic, you will back up your opinion with evidence. An essay outline will help align your argument with the facts. An essay should sound thoughtful and educated. Using an essay outline is key, and one you use may look like this:

  • Introduction
  • General background knowledge. This is knowledge the average reader likely has about the topic you are prepared to discuss.
  • A thesis statement.
  • Body Paragraphs
  • Argument 1. This argument will be in support of the thesis statement.
  • Supporting fact.
  • Supporting fact.
  • Supporting fact.
  • Argument 2. Another argument to support the thesis.
  • Supporting fact.
  • Supporting fact.
  • Supporting fact.
  • Argument 3. Another argument to support the thesis.
  • Supporting fact.
  • Supporting fact.
  • Supporting fact.
  • Opposing Arguments and Your Response to these Claims
  • Opposing Argument 1.
  • Your response to the claim.
  • Opposing Argument 2.
  • Your response to the claim.
  • Conclusion
  • Summarize the arguments made

Provide the reader with the reason why this essay matters. You could provide ideas for future research, why the topic you chose is relevant now, and possible applications.

Reflective Outline: Sample

A Reflective Essay is an analysis of an event that has occurred in your life and finding the outcome of that event. The impact it has had on you. The structure of a Reflective Essay is much more casual and lax than the average essay. This means that you have the freedom to adapt the structure to suit your event and to aid the flow of the text. Reflective texts create the opportunity for a diverse range of people to compare and connect over common life experiences, such as:

  • The passing of a loved one
  • Your first job
  • Falling in love

Below is a sample of a Reflective Outline:

Section 1: Introduction

A few sentences only attract your audience and spark their interest in your story. You should also give a sneak preview of the content you are going to include in your essay.

Example 1: "I was not sorry when my brother died."- Tsitsi Dangarembga, 'Nervous conditions.'

Example 2: "If you want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it if you want to know the truth."- J.D. Salinger, 'The Catcher in the Rye'.

Section 2: The Body

This is the section of your essay that contains the main bulk of the content.

Part 1- Setting the Scene

  • What happened to begin with?
  • Who were the important people involved?
  • What difficulty did you come across?

Part 2- Explaining the Story

  • Give a more detailed description of the difficulty you encountered.
  • What role did each important person play in the scenario?

Part 3- The Story's Ending

  • How did the situation end?
  • Were there any other problems, or did the situation have a clear finale?

Part 4- Conclusion

  • Summarise the event. (A short paragraph to briefly highlight the key points of the event.)
  • What did this event teach you, or lead you to view differently? Has it made you change the way you do or perceive something?

APA Outline Sample

Title Page

  • Title of Essay
  • Student Full Name
  • Professor's Name
  • Class (Optional)

Introduction

  • Introductory sentence
  • Explain the thesis.
  • Link the thesis to the opening sentence.
  • Briefly explain the arguments included in the essay.

Body Paragraph 1/First Argument

  • A brief summary of the first argument.
  • Provide evidence and refer to where this information came from.
  • Make an explanation as to why the claim is accurate or not based on the evidence provided.
  • Link the argument back to the thesis.

Body Paragraph 2/Second Argument

  • A brief summary of the second argument.
  • Provide evidence and refer to where this information came from.
  • Make an explanation as to why the claim is accurate or not based on the evidence provided.
  • Link the argument back to the thesis.

Body Paragraph 3/Third Argument

  • A brief summary of the third argument.
  • Provide evidence and refer to where this information came from.
  • Make an explanation as to why the claim is accurate or not based on the evidence provided.
  • Link the argument to a conclusion.

Conclusion

  • Summarise the entire essay, stating the thesis.
  • Provide a concluding sentence to wrap up the essay.
  • Citations

MLA Outline Sample

Introduction

  • The opening line to state the intentions of the essay.
  • Link the opening line to the thesis.
  • Thesis
  • Give a description of what the essay is focusing on.
  • Introduce the first argument and the claim.
  • State the second argument and the claim.
  • Finally, provide the third argument and the claim.
  • Body Paragraph 1
  • Give the reference.
  • Explain the argument and revisit the claim.
  • Link the argument back to the thesis.
  • Body Paragraph 2
  • Give the reference.
  • Explain the argument and revisit the claim.
  • Link the argument back to the thesis.
  • Body Paragraph 3
  • Give the reference.
  • Explain the argument and revisit the claim.
  • Link the argument back to the thesis.
  • Conclusion
  • Summarise the entire essay.
  • Provide a conclusive sentence to draw the essay to a close.
  • References

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