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Write a Good Essay Outline

How to Write a good essay outline

It is important to write a good essay outline when writing an essay. It gives the flow of your essay and gives a step to step guide to how you will break down your points. An outline is an organization for a research paper.  There are two types of outlines;

The topic outline– it uses a topic in the outline. Short sentences are used. An example of topic outline is what is used in text books. The topic of study is written without any other explanations.

The sentence outline– in this kind of outline, the main topic and the supporting ideas are all written in form of sentences. They are common is school assignments.

Importance of an outline

  1. Helps to clarify your thoughts

For long papers, you can feel very intimidated about where to start. When the topic is also broad, the same thoughts can haunt you. If you write a good essay outline, it helps you to gauge your understanding for the question. In order to write an informative paper, you need to understand its requirements first. After understanding, then you come up with a thesis statement.

As you look for points to support the thesis statement, then you understand the paper better. You will be surprised to realize that as you jot down the points, the research questions becomes clearer.

  1. Helps you to stay on target

When writing, it is possible to lose target of the paper and include or exclude information. Even when you have taken time to arrange your thought in your mind, some may disappear. What do you do in such a case? You might start writing unnecessary information. Your information might also get mixed up and end up making no or little sense.

When you write a good essay outline it guides you on the points to discus and how to discuss them. You are able to discuss a point exhaustively before rushing to the other. It also guides you when it comes to doing a thorough research.

  1. Highlights the weaknesses in your paper

Anytime you write a good essay outline, you write the main points and their supporting ideas. If there is something amiss about them, you can identify it from the outline. For example, you might notice that a particular supporting idea does not flow well with the main point. It might also be able the position you have placed them. You can recognize strong points that need to be in the first paragraph and those that should be used as conclusions.


  1. Saves you time

Though you might take time to write a good essay outline, it saves you time also when it comes to writing. It saves you time that you are likely to spend figuring out what the next point is or the supporting point for a main idea. When preparing the outline, you correct any errors when it comes to the information that is needed for the research paper. So, it saves you time that you would otherwise use to make corrections on a paper without an outline.

Characteristics of a good outline

  1. Coordination

The main points and the supporting ideas should be co-related. The coordination makes it easy to explain and expound on the main point.


There should be uniformity in the headings. If you decide to use verbs in the first sentence, then you have to use verbs in all the others.

  • Subordination

Headings should give general information. As you continue to breakdown the headings into more headings, they should get more specific. As the headings increases, they should be more and more specific.


Each main point should have at least two supporting points to be able to explain it better.

How to write a good essay outline format

  1. The first thing to do is to understand what the research question is asking you. What are you required to write about? What type of audience are you writing for? What is the purpose of the paper? Be prepared to spend some time in this process. It might take you long but it will definitely save you more time.
  2. Think about the question widely. Do not limit your thinking. Note down every idea that comes to your mind. You do not need to organize the ideas at this stage, just write them down as they come.

In this stage, ask yourself questions that relate to the topic. It is advisable that you set a time limit that you intend to spend on this stage. Otherwise you might go on forever.

  1. After you brainstorm on your essay idea, then look through everything that you have written down to determine the thesis statement. Identify your main and supporting ideas also. Where does each point fall in the essay? If some points do not fall anywhere, you can delete them.
  2. After you have all the points with you, it is time to arrange them. Which one comes first? What is the supporting idea? Arrange them the way you want them to follow each other. Build a story using the points from the introduction to the conclusion.
  3. Check to see if there is a flow in the paper. Do the points make sense? Are the supporting ideas good enough for the main points? At this point you can request someone to go through the outline to determine if it is making sense. Make sure that the point’s transition well. In short, make sure your outline tells an understandable story.
  4. As long as your outline is well developed, you need not worry about the contents of the paper. They will flow well. Put all your energy on the outline.
  5. As you write, feel free to change anything that does not make sense or flow well. Be flexible. An outline is an excellent guide but it does not mean you cannot alter it when writing.

An outline has three main parts; the introduction, body and conclusion. The introduction gives an overview of the topic. When someone reads your outline, they should be able to tell what kind of a paper you are about to write. Is it a discussion, causative or argumentative paper? The thesis statement appears on the last sentence of the first paragraph.

A thesis statement carries the weight of the paper. Anything you discus should be directly related to the thesis statement. All the supporting points build up the thesis statement.

The introduction comes in next. The topic is broken down into various main points. The main points are then supported by supporting ideas. Every main topic begins on new paragraph. Two or more supporting ideas then explain the main idea. It is okay to use an example to explain the ideas better.

The strongest points should come immediately after the introduction. Leave one strong point for the conclusion also.

In some cases, some lecturers can instruct you to write a five paragraphs essay outline. In such a case, the body of the essay should have three paragraphs.

The conclusion summarizes what the essay has. No new information is introduced in the conclusion. It is a short summary that should not take more than two paragraphs.



What to avoid as you write a good essay outline;

  • Do not ignore an outline. It is part of the writing process. Even if you do not have a lot of time, take time to draft it.
  • Do not fear being scrappy when writing the outline.
  • Do not rush the process. Concentrate on getting the points and you will have an easy time writing your outline.
  • Remember, an outline needs not be detailed. Leave the details to when you will start writing. You might lose focus when you become too detailed.
  • Make sure you have a writing material when brainstorming for an outline. Be it a paper or a computer; just make sure you jot down everything that comes to your mind.
  • Wait until the last minute to write the paper. It is one of the reasons why you will find the outline a waste of time. As an organized student, start writing your paper as soon as you receive the assignment. You need to plan the time periods or each section of the paper. Good planning will allow you to plan your paper well and find time to do a good research.

A good paper requires good planning from the start. An outline is the basic requirement and the most important. It gives you a framework of how you will write your paper. It is a good guide that also helps you to save time when writing your paper.

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