How to Write an Essay Outline 

An outline provides your essay with a structure and gives you guidance for starting the drafting process. An ideal outline should summarize the purpose of your essay and organize content consistently and rationally.

In this post, we will guide you on how to make the right outline for your essay, but before that let’s have a quick look at what exactly an essay outline is.

What is an Essay Outline? 

An essay outline is a quick plan of your essay. Here you point out the main ideas of your paper and arrange all arguments into paragraphs so that you don’t miss anything when writing your essay.

Writing an Essay Outline

While there are several essay types, the structure for most of them is five-paragraphs. So when outlining your essay, you need to add an “introduction”, “three body paragraphs” (along with arguments), and a “conclusion”.


As the name indicates, it’s an introductory section of your essay. Here you will talk about the subject of your essay and its thesis. A thesis is a powerful statement of your essay that generally has one main idea.

Start your introduction with a “hook” to grab your reader’s attention. Make sure your introduction is brief and does not repeat the title. To make your introduction more impressive, you can provide some background information on the subject. Don’t forget, readers won’t approach your entire piece of work positively if your introduction isn’t good.

Body Paragraphs

The body of your essay should include three paragraphs. Make sure you include each in your outline. Write down a topic sentence for each body paragraph along with an argument related to your thesis. Also, you need to mention all the supports, including facts, examples, data, and other evidence that prove your claim.  Remember, the more detail you outline, the easier it will be for you to organize your thoughts while writing. 


In this section, you should wrap up your essay by restating your thesis and summarizing the main objective of your paper. However, you should avoid adding everything to the conclusion

In general, your essay outline should look like below:


    1. Introduction to your essay subject.
    2. Thesis

Body Paragraph 1

    1. Write the argument for your thesis.
    2. Support this argument with examples, facts, and data.
    3. Explain how they are related to your thesis.

Body Paragraph 2

    1. Write another argument for your thesis
    2. Support this argument with examples, facts, and data.
    3. Explain how they are related to your thesis.

Body Paragraph 3

    1. Again, you need to write an argument for your thesis or counterargument.
    2. Support your argument and explain why the counterargument does not work.
    3. Explain how your arguments are related to your thesis.


    1. Summarize all your main points quickly.
    2. Restate your thesis
    3. Add a call to action for what you want your readers to do after reading the essay.

Formatting of Outline

Generally, students use the linear style for formatting essay outlines. Linear style formatting ranks arguments as per their importance – from major to minor ones. Consider the following points when formatting outline for essay

  • Make sure the outline is in sentence form that means each section of the outline must be a complete sentence. 
  • Define the main section and subsections of your outline clearly.
  • While you’re familiar with a given essay subject, it doesn’t mean your readers are. Format your essay outline accordingly. 
  • Arrange arguments in a logical order.

Why Use Full Sentences in Your Outline

It’s helpful if you write full sentences in your outline. A full sentence outline provides detailed information and helps you become specific about your essay subject. If your outline should be handed to a teacher before you start writing your essay, prefer to use a full-sentence outline to give them thorough information about your essay. It also makes it easy to turn your outline into an essay when you’re ready to write it.

Things to Do Before Outlining

Before you outline your essay, read the assignment carefully. You should be able to understand the essay type, what you need to write, how many arguments should be there, and how long your paper needs to be.

Purpose of Your Essay

Understand the purpose of your essay. Do you want to give your readers information about a subject or simply entertain them? Based on your goal, you can determine what thesis you should consider, and what writing technique you need to follow. 

Identify Your Audience

 Even if you’re writing for a high school or college assignment, you should address your essay to a specific audience. While generally only the teacher will read and evaluate your work, you should know for whom you’re writing your essay. It will help you learn what arguments will work for your essay, and what resources you should use for research and evidence. 

State your Thesis

It will help you decide what topic sentences need to outline for your essay. Your thesis should be arguable and offer adequate details to impress readers.

Choose Structure for Your Essay Outline

Above we discussed the basic structure for your essay outline. We used a standard alphanumeric structure, but you can also use a decimal structure to express your ideas if it seems more clearer to you. 

The decimal outline structure starts with “1.0” The first section would read “1.0”, the second would read “2.0”, and similarly, the 3rd one would read “3.0”. To add subsections, you need to add another decimal, followed by a number. For example, a new subsection under the first section will read “1.1”.

Your teacher or editor may have a different format that they use such as roman numerals (e.g., I., II., etc.) and letters as subsections (e.g., I. a), II. b), etc.)

When it comes to outlines, most essay types follow the same basic structure but there could be tiny differences between them. It’s advisable that you understand those dissimilarities and outline your writings accordingly. Remember, the right outline helps you organize your information and rest assured that you don’t miss anything when writing. So do your best to create an effective outline for your essay.   

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