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How to write an essay outline: the right approach


When you are writing an essay for school remember that the outline is one of the most important preliminary steps. It is something that helps you with your organization and is designed to ensure that your work goes smoothly when it comes time to write the actual essay. Your outline may be required by the teacher. You may have to submit an outline before you can move forward with your work as the teacher may seek to approve of it first. Your teacher may require that the outline be submitted with the final piece the same as a first draft. Other times your teacher may not require an outline.

If the outline is required by your teacher they may have a specific format they want you to follow. The instructions should tell you. If they do not then ask the teacher what format they require. If there is no requirement or you do not have to submit the outline to anyone but yourself then you have more flexibility. With that you can do a lot more for yourself and focus less on ensuring your outline meets the requirements of someone else.

Generally speaking the outline for any essay will include short bullets or a list of the major sections and the subsections which are to be included in the essay. You can use it to fill in the arguments you plan on making and the evidence you plan to submit with it. Many students will follow the outline structure that you see below:

  1. Introduction
    • thesis statement
    • opening quote
  2. Body
    • paragraph 1
      • topic sentence
      • evidence
      • transitional sentence
    • paragraph 2
      • topic sentence
      • evidence
      • transitional sentence
    • paragraph 3
      • topic sentence
      • evidence
      • transitional sentence
  3. Conclusion
    • summary of thesis
    • summary of paragraph 1
    • summary of paragraph 2
    • summary of paragraph 3
    • closing remarks and inspirational quote

Of course you are not confined to this structure type. As the student you have the freedom to write the essay outline however you see fit. If you want bullet points then use them. If you want full sentences so that the majority of your work is done before you sit down to write then do that instead. It is entirely up to you as the outline serves you and you alone.