Essay Outline as Vital Part of Writing

Essay outline is undoubtedly one of the most controversial aspects of academic writing. The majority of people prefer to ignore it, thinking it’s unnecessary and time-consuming. They have to research and write a paper as it is, why would they waste their time on making an outline? University professors understand it, so to counter their students’ reluctance, lots of them make this bit of writing obligatory. But of course, it only leads to more annoyance and frustration. 

Problems like this could be resolved solely by giving young people a personal understanding of what an essay outline is. It’s a plan of paper where a writer lists all major points they’re going to cover, presenting them in chronological order or in accordance with their relevance. The definition alone won’t help convince you of the importance of outline for essay, though, which is why we’re going to explain its purpose and demonstrate its usefulness in a practical example.  

Outline or How to Make Your Academic Life Easier

Does writing an essay outline take time? Yes, for sure. But it won’t be much, and the outcomes make it absolutely worth it. Here are three main goals that outlines help to accomplish.

Make You Understand How Your Paper Will Look Like

When a person composes 5 paragraph essay outline, they think about their paper as a whole. It allows building a clear picture in their mind, something they would struggle with. Imagine that you were tasked to write an essay on the topic, “3 Reasons Why People Should Study in the US.” Your mind is bursting with ideas now, and you jump from one point to another, unsure which of them to explore. An outline is your short plan where you indicate all these ideas for their further usage. You could settle on the 3 best reasons today yet forget what they were tomorrow. Outlining an essay ensures that this doesn’t happen: you write all crucial points down, building links between them. This gives you a more solid idea of what you want to do

Help Plan the Amount of Information You’ll Be Including

In most cases, professors tell their students how many words they should write. Any average college paper will have at least 5 parts. The first paragraph will be introductionbody takes three passages, and conclusion gets one. But let’s say you’re writing a longer work of 1800 words: outlines for essays could help decide how many body parts to include, which points along with sub-points to cover, and what sections this particular paper is going to have. Based on this information, students understand how many sources they should look for as well as what volume of info they’ll be working with.

Work as a Guide in Cases Where You Feel Stuck

Very often, people who begin working on an essay are full of determination. They compose a thesis statement, watch their grammar carefully, and hurry to present different ideas. But at some point, their mind takes them elsewhere. They stay focused on one point for too long, ramble, become interested in unrelated aspects out of blue, and slowly, they lose track of their initial topic and thesis. When these students realize what happened, they have no choice other than to start over, deleting sentences, or even entire paragraphs. Essay paper outline prevents this problem. You see what the skeleton is and you follow it closely. It keeps you within the limits of your own plans. It is much better to follow a strict plan rather than let your imagination run loose.   

So, writing an essay outline is essential as it plays several crucial roles at once. It helps build an image of a future paper, giving you an opportunity to avoid writing many chaotic notes during brainstorming. By using it, you face fewer problems with word count. Most importantly, you can always double-check to make sure your ideas flow in the right direction. When we compare efforts poured into outlines along with the ease they bring, it becomes clear that students could only benefit from them.

Types of Essay Outlines

An interesting thing about essay outlines is that few people know there is more than one type of them. Sure, there is no need to follow a specific template — you could always write it in your own way, but generally, there are two major kinds. The first one is a topic outline. A writer titles paragraphs with brief phrases, focusing on their implications. Like it’s evident from the name, it’s all about the topic, so if you are exploring different kinds of fruits, you could title each part with something like, “Apples,” “Bananas,” “Plums,” etc. Such outline of an essay provides an overview that directs you through the points and reminds you of what topic each paragraph is supposed to center on.

The second type is the sentence outline. Lots of people find it more convenient because unlike the previous kind, this one expresses a writer’s thoughts fully, in complete sentences. Instead of just outlining a topic, you voice a whole idea via a key sentence. This makes essay outline template a bit longer, but it also becomes clearer and full of details. Later, as you’re involved in a writing process, you’ll be able to use this sentence in several ways, from basing your paragraph on it to making it an actual part of the body. It could be easier to remember what you were planning on doing if you see the central idea expressed in such a direct and detailed manner.     

How to Write an Essay Outline Correctly? Four Main Steps

Now that you know why an essay outline is so relevant and which forms of it exist, it is time for a bigger question. Namely, how do people compose outlines? What structure do they have? What steps should a future writer follow to do it correctly? Take a look at the four suggestions below — we guarantee that you won’t be confused for much longer!

1. Start brainstorming the topic

After you receive your assignment and come up with a topic (or select it from the available list), you should figure out what exactly your paper would include. This process takes place before you start looking for how to write an outline for an essay. If your theme is WW2, which aspects would you rather focus on? Bounce ideas between your friends or classmates. Narrow it down until you find a specific angle that you want to explore. When vague ideas start gaining shape, it is time for an outline.  

2. Choose a type of outline

As you learned, essay outlines come in two types. Which of them seems better to you? There is no right or wrong answer here — some people work more effectively when they write down topics while others succeed with sentences. Settle on a type and move on toward completing it.  

3. Follow a standard template with numbers and letters

How to create an outline for an essay? Well, students could always do it in the way they want, but it’s easier to use an already prepared template, especially in case a professor decides to check as well as grade it. Both topic and sentence types require the use of numbers and letters. People start with thesis (no need to include introduction because it is already evident that your work has it). Then there are numbers I, II, and III: if it is a short five paragraph essay outline, they’ll mean paragraphs. Otherwise, they denote sections. Letters (A, B, C) come in longer papers: they mark the number of paragraphs in a section. Each paragraph could have sub-points represented through numbers 1, 2, 3, etc. As for conclusion, some students add it, others don’t, so it’s up to you.  

4. Fill the template with your own ideas and make adjustments

Now that a writer knows how many sections/paragraphs their work is going to have, they should start naming each point within an essay outline. Introduce ideas logically; check back with thesis for their sequence. If you feel like you added a name for a section but you don’t have enough ideas for paragraphs in it, rethink and change its title. At this stage, it’s not too late to turn back – essay outlines help you catch and correct your paper before you spend time writing something that won’t go anywhere.

Essay Outline Example

For helping you see how essay outlines work, we’ll share several detailed examples. Our first sample topic is going to be “Morally Gray Characters in Fiction.” We’ll create both kinds of outlines for it.

Topic Outline

Thesis: TV shows ‘Hannibal’ and ‘Merlin’ are brilliant examples of the development of morally gray characters.

TV Show Hannibal

A. Will as an Inherently Gray Character

  • Will at the start of the show
  • Progression of Will’s darkness

B. Hannibal as Gray Character

  • Hannibal’s philosophy of murder
  • What makes him gray and not dark

TV Show Merlin

A. Merlin as a Light Character Who Becomes Gray

  • Merlin in the first three seasons
  • Merlin’s twisted obsession with Arthur

B. Morgana Who Undergoes Several Degrees of Gray

  • Early signs of moral ambiguity
  • Progression into a morally gray character


Sentence Outline

Thesis: same.

There are two morally ambiguous protagonists in ‘Hannibal’, Hannibal and Will, who believe they have a right to judge other people for their sins.

A. Will likes killing people, but his victims are usually other murderers.

  • Will enjoys killing a murderer at the start of the show, but he feels guilty about it and he fights against his own darkness.
  • As the show goes on, Will becomes more confident, and though he still resists darkness, he gets more and more people punished.

B. Hannibal does terrible things in the show, but there are mitigating factors.

  • Hannibal kills only rude people or when he is protecting himself.
  • Hannibal is capable of love, self-sacrifice, and empathy, and his references to religion prove that his actions can be seen as morally gray.

‘Merlin’ features two enemies, Merlin and Morgana, who are morally gray.

A. Merlin protects the innocent, but he puts the interests of a person he loves above everyone’s life.

  • In the first three seasons, Merlin is lighter than gray, but he still kills people and lies.
  • In other two seasons, Merlin’s fixation on Arthur grows, and he becomes interested in protecting him alone regardless of costs.

B. Morgana does many horrifying things, but her goals are noble.

  • Early on, Morgana is ready to kill Uther to ensure that others live happily.
  • With time, Morgana becomes bitter and angry, and she fights for freedom with wars.

Conclusion: ‘Hannibal’ and ‘Merlin’ have complex characters who fit the definition of moral ambiguity.  

Now, what is an outline for an essay of a shorter size? We picked a topic, “Reading as a Form of Therapy for Depressed People.” This is how the planning stage could look like.

Topic Essay Outline

Thesis: Reading could be a soothing experience that helps escape everyday problems, as demonstrated by Harry’s, Alice’s, and Katrin’s stories.

  • Harry’s story
  • Alice’s story
  • Katrin’s story

Sentence Essay Outline

Thesis: same.

  • Harry has suffered from depression for 3 years, but after re-discovering Harry Potter, he remembered how to feel happy again.
  • Alice has had severe depression for over a decade and reading one of K.S. Morgan’s romance books helped her delve into an exciting world of mysteries, love, and betrayals.
  • Katrin was so ashamed of her love for Twilight saga that she rejected these books, but with her friends’ encouragement, she returned to reading and battled depression.

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Elizabeth Baldridge
Elizabeth Baldridge

Elizabeth provides educational materials, conducts research, explores and solves student challenges. Her posts are always helpful, innovative, and contain interesting insights.

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