Essay Outlining 101



Writing an outline

before

writing an essay is a crucial step in the writing process, and yet many people skip this stage and dive right into writing. It’s all too easy to say that writing an essay outline would take too long, or that you already know what you’re writing about, so why write it twice? The truth is that writing a concrete outline is an essential stepping-stone to writing a solid essay, and there’s really no excuse not to. Not only can writing an outline for your essay help you gather your information and organize it logically, it can also help fight writer’s block.

Having a logical, ordered set of notes to refer to as you work through the writing process will give you direction and focus when you start to lose motivation. The Inside Higher Ed blog recently posted about SMART writing plans (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound), and how following such a plan can elevate your writing and keep you on track for success. It even cited a study that said writers who adhere to a plan and schedule could produce three pages for every one page than a more spontaneous writer could put out, in the same amount of time. It seems that having an essay outline is not just logical, but it actually helps with writing faster.

So now that we know why we need an essay outline, where do we start? No matter the length of your essay, the required topic, or even your level of interest in the subject, there is a basic structure that can be applied to all essays, which helps form the bones of any essay outline.

Start with your topic and thesis statement and go from there. Below is an easy outline template that can be expanded to suit any essay:

Introduction

Topic: State the subject of your paper.

Thesis Statement (Introductory): State your position on the topic.

Paragraph 1

Argument: Assign a purpose—an argument—to each paragraph in your essay.

Supporting Documentation/Source: Back up each of your arguments with research.

Paragraph 2

Argument:

Supporting Documentation/Source:

Paragraph 3

Argument:

Supporting Documentation/Source:

[…] and so on, depending on the length of your paper. *Note: if your paper is long, you may have two-three paragraphs per argument, and that’s perfectly fine.

Thesis Statement (Closing): Reiterate your thesis statement and summarize your arguments.

By taking the time to write a logical, concise outline for your essay, you’ll be able to start writing, and keep writing until you’re finished. You won’t have to stop to check your research or make sure that your arguments line up in a logical and smooth manner. Though writing an outline might take a bit of extra time at the beginning, it will make the writing process fly by much quicker. Not only that, but it will give substance and direction to your writing. And if you get stuck, we can help with

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By Ceilidh Marlow