Professional Guidelines on How to Write an Essay Outline

Students tend to look for tips on writing an essay outline only when their professors ask them to. In other cases, this is something they prefer to ignore, dismissing it as extra work that eats away at their time and ends up being useless. But in reality, essay outlines help create the foundation for your academic success. They serve several important purposes at once, to the point where they determine how much time you’re going to spend on your work. Paper outline is a writing plan where you indicate the points your essay is going to have and present them one after another. It doesn’t require detailed explanations — only core definitions are needed. Every college student can benefit from it, and here’s why.

Table of Contents

  1. Types of Outline
  2. Steps on How to Write an Essay Outline
  3. Essay Outline Examples

What Makes Essay Outlines Vital

Before you learn how you should write an essay outline, you need to understand reasons for it. Every writer will likely list their own reasons, but we’ve picked three general ones. They should illustrate the importance of this piece of writing.

  • Outline creates an approximate image of future paper.

When students start brainstorming in the hope of coming up with some great idea for their writing, hundreds of shapes flash through their minds. For example, History students can think about describing how our universe would look like if Hitler had won, exploring Americans’ participation in the Cold war, or making an educated guess as to which countries would be in conflict in the next ten years. There can be many potential topics, but only some of them could be turned into full-fledged academic papers. Students with these ideas start outlining an essay, and they soon realize which of their plans don’t work. For instance, they were asked to write only 3 pages, so there is no time for exploration of how the world might have changed under Hitler’s victory. Same goes for the third idea about potential future wars. The only sustainable thought is about the Cold war, so this is what students focus on. They imagine the core ideas, plan on how to incorporate them and get a clear vision of how their work is going to look like.  

  • An Outline for an essay helps understand how long your paper is going to be.

Now that they have decided on an idea, students move ahead by breaking it into parts. Outline becomes more solid at this point, with more details appearing. By writing down the key points they’ll be investigating, students see how much content they’ll be writing, how many sources they need, and how much time they should spend on getting everything done. All these work aspects are essential, and they explain why you need essay paper outline. Let’s imagine your analytical essay topic is about COVID: once you separate it into sections, you come up with ideas for each of them. You plan on what to write in the “emergence” part, what to include into the “symptoms,” as well as what to mention in “treatment.” If your essay is long, you can include five more points; if it’s shorter, you could focus on just a single section. Only plans like this help understand these points and plan for them effectively.

  • Outline anchors you back to your plans.

What is an outline for an essay? First of all, it’s a way to stay focused on your topic even once too many ideas get in your way and start clouding your judgment. Writing is difficult, especially if you are new to it. It could also be pretty boring, so young writers often find themselves distracted. Because of this, they start getting lost the more they write. They might have planned one thing but now they allowed their mind to take them elsewhere, shifting the focus of their paper and losing track of their initial decisions. Outline of an essay is there for stopping this from happening. Once you fill it with details about your work, that’s it, they’ll be there to guide you. By seeing which sections and key points you’ve chosen, you’ll be able to stay on track at all times. Even if you included only 1 sentence for each part, it’ll be enough for keeping you concentrated.

Choosing Between Two Outline Types

When students wonder how to create an outline for an essay, they rarely think about which type they prefer. Most of them have no idea that there is more than a kind of outline in the first place! So, let’s remedy that by making sure you choose the model that works best for you. Unless professors expect you to submit an outline to them for evaluation, you could format it the way you want, no matter how crazy it looks. But you might like any of the following two types.

Topic Outline

It requires mentioning the essence of your paragraph. It could be 1 word or a phrase disclosing the issue you’ll be researching. For example, writing an essay outline about healthy diet could require four different body paragraphs. With topic outline, they could sound like this: “Vegetables,” “Fruits,” “Greens,” “Dairy.” One word only and yet the topic is already perfectly clear — by taking a look at your plan, you’ll know what you intended to write about and in which order your points should be situated.

Sentence Outline

This plan denotes a key statement characterizing each of your paragraphs. It is complete, so it helps you remember what to write with even more clarity. For 5 paragraph essay outline on the topic of “Pet Adoption,” you could mention the following sentences: “Adopted pets need more attention because they lacked it for years,” “Quality food is needed as compensation for its previous absence,” “Adopted pets should be taken to the vet more often because they are more predisposed to health issues,” “Owners should avoid fighting around their pet,” “Owners must show unconditional love to prove that they won’t give up on their pet no matter what.” After reading an essay outline like this, you will be able to develop your ideas more easily.

4 Steps on How to Write an Essay Outline Fast

Now that we’ve explained why students should write an essay outline, let’s explore main steps. Roughly, the process could be broken into four parts. Only the last step requires actual writing.

  1. Choose a topic. The first thing to do is to select a topic. Ask for advice or go through your hobbies: pick something you’d be interested in researching.

  2. Settle on a type of outline. Like you saw above, there are two types to select from. Which of them looks better to you? Topic plan does not require full sentences or even good grammar: you could merely mention the keywords that represent your ideas. Sentence outline is more comprehensive, but it demands more effort.

  3. Download essay outline template. You can likely find it on the website of your university or online. Outlines have numbers and letters that denote sections, major points, and sub-points.

  4. Write down your plans. Mention thesis, but no introduction. Filling conclusion is optional. Body is your focus: add details that your essay will have, as many of them as you think are necessary.

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Practical Illustration of Essay Outline Example

Seeing actual outlines is better than reading about them. To help you figure out how an average essay outline looks like, we’ve chosen two different topics and prepared both types of outlines for them. You can try to emulate them if you want. The first sample is a high-school essay on the topic “What Are Panic Attacks?”

Topic Outline

Thesis: Panic attack is often misunderstood and dismissed, but in essence, it is an unexpected flood of fear that is characterized by inability to breathe deeply, accelerated heart-rate, and certainty that one is going to die.

I. Definition

A. Panic Attack as People Understand It

1. Fear triggered by scary situation.

2. A made-up disorder.

B. Panic Attack From Scientific Viewpoint

1. Mind response to a triggering situation.

2. Onset of terror without any specific reason.

II. Symptoms

A. Problems with Breathing

1. Only shallow breathing.

2. Heart is beating too fast & breathing accelerates.

B. Intense Fear of Dying

1. Certainty that something is physically wrong with you.

2. Confidence that you’ll die soon.

III. Conclusion

Sentence Essay Structure Outline

Thesis: same.

I. Panic attacks have several definitions: one is promoted by people who have never experienced this condition while another one is scientific in nature.  

A. People often misunderstand the concept of panic attacks, so they spread stereotypes and lessen the gravity of this condition.

1. Many people mistakenly believe that due to the word “panic” in its name, PAs appear only when a person feels threatened. 

2. Other people think that PAs do not exist and that it is an excuse teenagers or weak-minded individuals use to justify their inability to do something.

B. Science gives another definition to panic attacks, disclosing that it is an episode of sudden fear that occurs in several situations.

1. People with PTSD suffer from PAs when they see the reminder of a traumatic event.

2. Due to a weakened nervous system, panic attack can happen without any reason, even when a person is safe and happy.

II. Panic attacks are represented by three major systems: inability to breathe deeply, accelerated heart-rate, and certainty that a person is about to die.

A. Breathing difficulties are a major tell-tale sign of PAs.

1. A person feels like they cannot breathe in deeply, so they try doing it repeatedly.

2. Heartbeat accelerates, leaving a person even more breathless and panicked.

B. Fearing that one is close to dying is another major symptom.

1. One of the largest indications of PAs is a person’s certainty that they developed a grave physical condition that keeps them from breathing properly.

2. Confidence that death is close is another related symptom: every change in a body feels like it pushes one toward dying.

III. Conclusion: While panic attacks are misunderstood, they are a real disorder that can make people’s life difficult.

Read also: What is the structure of an essay?

Additional Outline Examples 

How to write an outline for an essay of a smaller size? The principle will be the same, but the number of points will decrease. This time, let’s take a more entertaining topic on media studies: “Supernatural Ending as Illustration of Bad Writing.”

Topic Essay Outline

Thesis: TV show Supernatural has remained successful for years, but it ended on a note that destroyed its own narrative along with all common sense.

I. Supernatural’s narrative.

II. Finale destroyed character development.

III. It broke every logical rule.

Read also: Efficient solutions to fix my paper.

Sentence Outlines For Essays

Thesis: same.

I. Supernatural has been promoting the idea that family doesn’t end in blood for years.

II. In the last episode, Dean and Sam were not given a chance to mourn their loved ones, acting as if only blood family matters and regressing to their early seasons personas.

III. Love confession of Dean’s love interest was not followed, as if it has never happened; despite the fact that their son became God, neither Dean nor Sam asked for their loved ones to be brought back.

This was five paragraph essay outline example. It has three body sections, intro, and conclusion. Pick any of these models and follow them during your own explorations!

Posted by Diana B., January 31, 2021