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Steps You Can Take to Outline Your Essay

When you get an assignment to write an essay, creating an outline for the essay is very important. An outline is a quick way to organize your thoughts about the topic so you can effectively prove your thesis or tell a stellar story. Outlines help to ensure that your essay is orderly and filled with relevant information.

Typically, an outline contains three sections: an introduction, the body paragraphs, and a conclusion. While the process may seem daunting, it can actually be quick and easy if you adhere to the following steps.

Brainstorming

Before you even begin to outline your essay, it is crucial that you have a brainstorming session about the essay. Brainstorming sessions allow you to explore all potential avenues for the thesis of your essay. How you choose to brainstorm is entirely up to you. Some find it helpful to use a whiteboard to write out all potential ideas, while others may find it beneficial to simply spend some time thinking about topics to themselves. Once you feel you have adequately brainstormed, select the thesis that is strongest, and begin writing your outline after that.

Outline sections

Now, it is time to begin your official outline. While the structure of essays can vary depending on the actual assignment, most essays can generally be outlined using this format:

Introduction
Begin by outlining the introduction portion of the essay. The introduction is one of the most important components as it sets up the rest of the essay. Start by writing down the thesis statement or the main idea of your essay. If this is an opinion-based essay, write a sentence about why this topic is important to you personally. In this section of the outline, you should also list out the main components of the essay that will be further outlined in the body paragraphs.

Body

Now it is time to outline the body paragraphs of your essay. The purpose of the body paragraphs is to make claims that will support your main thesis or idea.  Supporting evidence will back up these claims. Typically, essays are formatted so there are three main paragraphs that look something like this:

Paragraph 1: The first idea

  • Supporting evidence for the first idea
  • Supporting evidence for the first idea
  • Supporting evidence for the first idea

Paragraph 2: The second idea

  • Supporting evidence for the second idea
  • Supporting evidence for the second idea
  • Supporting evidence for the second idea

Paragraph 3: The third idea

  • Supporting evidence for the third idea
  • Supporting evidence for the third idea
  • Supporting evidence for the third idea

Conclusion

The conclusion portion of the outline should be used to restate your thesis. Additionally, you should include a wrap-up statement that can be used to end your essay.

General tips

When outlining your essay, stick to these general tips.

  • Keep it short: The outline is meant to be just that — an outline. Do not write lengthy paragraphs of information. Save that for the actual essay! Instead, keep it simple by writing a sentence or two per section.
  • Stick with it: When writing the actual essay, keep your outline within reach at all times. Stick with the original outline so your essay remains organized (but feel free to make adjustments when necessary).

Do not be too overwhelmed by the prospect of writing an essay. By using an outline, you can keep your thoughts organized and structured so that it is actually quite simple to create the end product. If you find yourself stumped while writing the outline, it may be wise to return to the brainstorming phase to ensure that your thesis is as strong as it can be.

 

Jenny Modlisz is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.

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