Essay Outline: An Ultimate Guide

Organizing your thoughts before a writing process is an excellent way to plan for an informative, clear, and well-organized essay. Writing an essay is challenging, yet not difficult if you have planned summarized sentences and highlights outlining what you want to discuss in the essay.

Whether you're a researcher, an academic, or a student, you need an essay outline to organize your thoughts, argument, and supporting essay in any essay.

Suppose you need to write an essay and don't know how to organize the outline. You can read this article with examples. But you can always ask PapersOwl to write an essay for me by professional writers from different academic areas.

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Writing essays

What is an outline?

An outline is an organizational tool researchers, academics, and authors use in their academic and professional writing. It is a skeleton, a foundation of an entire writing piece, produced to structurize main ideas into a list of contents.

“If you failed to prepare, prepare to fail”.
- H.K. Williams

Although writing an outline is not mandatory, it is a must for those willing to stand out. Professors and readers will appreciate a well-detailed structure of contents, and it would be easier for an author to work on the piece.

An Outline is:

Most likely, you have already realized that the outline is a roadmap for your paper. You can write your main idea here, provide supportive arguments, and prepare headings for future writing paragraphs.

As I mentioned, you can produce a piece without maps or blueprints. However, it will make your life a lot harder. All of our authors work with outlines to help create a better essay.

Here is how an outline can be helpful:

  • We mean it when we say "blueprint." When researching, you receive tons of data, and outlines help you understand what goes where without losing any piece.
  • You will better understand a subject, and as a result, it will be easier to explain it to the audience.
  • With an outline, you will know precisely where to find the information you need when presenting your work.

Now that you know an outline's importance, we will tell you how to make one. There are two options: first is to ask PapersOwl for help. The second one is writing it yourself. You can learn it.

“Education is not only a ladder of opportunity, but it is also an investment in our future”.
- Ed Markey

Essay Outline Format

When writing an essay outline, you must familiarize yourself with the topic sentence and have done preliminary research. Your research from relevant sources will give you ideas about quotes, information, and essential point you will discuss in the essay - all these will be the basics of your thesis statement.

Once you have your information bank, organizing them into different aspects of your argument and support is crucial. This help to avoid redundancy and inclusion of irrelevance.

Generally, the standard structure for a solid outline contains three essential parts or subjects. Depending on the essay's length, you could split the parts into three paragraphs or three longer sections containing several paragraphs.

The three essential parts of an essay outline include the introduction, body, and conclusion.


An essay introduction should grab the reader's attention, be brief, and contain background information.

Usually, 3-4 sentences where you describe your topic (spice it up with a hook), intentions to write this particular piece, and the main foundation block of any essay or research paper - thesis statement. Mention the essay topic sentence and thesis in your outline.

  • The first sentence should introduce a topic and grab readers' attention (Hook statement). Tell an anecdote or a shocking fact relative to the main idea of the writing. It may also include quotes, rhetorical questions, and statistics.
  • The second subpoint sentence should all be about the topic and its history. Keep it short but let the reader know everything he has to know.
  • The final subpoint goes for your thesis statement—the thesis statement sums up the main points in the essay. Announce your argument, which will sound in your readers' heads along with your writing.


The body part of an essay contains supporting evidence, opinions, argument, and ideas to prove your thesis statement. It is the most information-rich part of your writing, and you should provide your thoughts in all the details required. Use as many paragraphs as you need, don't be greedy.

  • Ensure each paragraph has a topic or idea supporting your thesis and no more than one idea per paragraph.
  • Reasonable opinion, other research, facts, data, and your argument should be reinforced.
  • Remember to include a transition sentence that will smoothly bring the reader to the next point.

Conclusion Paragraph Outline

This is the final paragraph of your paper, where you should remind your reader what it was all about.

  • Begin with your thesis statement. However, don't repeat it word to word, restate the point and paraphrase the sentence itself.
  • Finish with a final thought. Usually, it tells a reader how the thesis might be implemented, the importance of solutions described in the essay, or other aspects that the idea may influence in the thesis statement.

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Here is a template for a basic essay outline:

Basic Essay Outline

Outline structure types

While it is all up to you to decide how to organize an outline, we advise you to ensure your essay outline adheres to the requirements provided along with the essay topic.

You can choose the most convenient if there's no required system for formatting the outline. There are some which are widely accepted. What are those types?

Alphanumeric structure style

The alphanumeric outline structure is the most frequent one. It features and follows these characters in the order of Roman numerals, Capital letters, Arabic numerals, and Lowercase letters.

Every subdivision is described as Roman numbers, and then you go with capital letters, Arabic numerals, and lowercase letters, accordingly.

  • Roman numerals (I, II, III, etc.) to identify major sections of the outline. Usually, you will have five of them, each for every paragraph of the paper.
  • Capital letters (A, B, C, etc.) appear to show points in the sections.
  • Arabic numbers (1,2,3, etc.) are used for further important details.
  • Lowercase letters (a,b,c, etc.) indicate if more details are needed.

Alphanumeric Structure Style

Decimal structure style

The decimal structure is similar to the alphanumeric structure but has one difference. Here we use only numerals. The added benefit of the decimal outline system relates to its decimal notation, which shows how every outline level relates to the main section.

Some people prefer this structure type because it might be easier to display the connection between each element.

  • Outline begins with 1.0 and continues with 2.0, 3.0, etc. determining the beginning of every new section.
  • For every new information point, we change the number after the dot. For instance, when we add information to the paragraph with the number 3.0, we name a new piece of information 3.1, 3.2, and so on.
  • In case further details are needed, we add more decimals. In our case, it will look like 3.1.1, 3.2.1, etc.

Decimal Structure Style

Essay Outline Examples

As promised, here you can find essay outline examples for different essay types.

First, we must determine what essay type we will write. To do that, we must identify what we are trying to achieve with our writing. Are we trying to persuade our audience, enlighten, or entertain? Are we willing to provide research, a review, or else?

Let's review some of these basic outline templates for a specific type of essay.

Narrative essay outline example

A narrative essay is a piece of writing that tells a story about an event on something creatively. It is similar to telling a personal story, a fiction narrative, or a literacy narrative essay.

It is the least complicated kind of writing because you don't have to perform any research. The most common topic for such an essay would be "How I spent my summer vacation." The narrative essay has to be engaging. To do so, you have to:

  • Conduct a thrilling plot.
  • Include a conflict (i.e., a protagonist and an antagonist).
  • Make bright characters.
  • Exaggerate descriptions, but do not lie.

Using your imagination is one of the best strategies for entertaining your writing. Let it fill your essay with details and language to make your story come alive. Describe smells, emotions, feelings, and so on. However, remember that, in most cases, narrative essays are real stories.

Narrative Essay Outline Samples

Comparative essay Outline

In this essay outline, you will analyze two or more subjects with each other. It is also known as compare and contrast essay. It involves writing where you should highlight in which ways certain things are similar to and different from one another. This critical task stimulates critical thinking and forces you to conduct a compelling analysis.

Generally, comparative essays have an introduction (topic, theme, and thesis statement), body paragraphs, and a conclusion summarising the comparison. This article will describe only some of the processes of writing a comparison essay. However, I will provide you with specific tips:

  • Use cue words (also, like, similar to, unlike, compared to, nevertheless, etc.)
  • Use cue words (also, like, similar to, unlike, compared to, nevertheless, etc.)
  • Be more specific in your thesis.

By the last point,  write something like "BMW and Mercedes-Benz provide the same product; however, their marketing strategy differs" instead of "This essay will compare BMW and Mercedes-Benz."

This is what your outline should look like:

Essay Outline - A Comparative Example

Argumentative essay outline

Argumentative essays are very similar to comparative essays in bringing arguments to support your opinion. However, in this case, you should provide arguments with logical evidence on both sides of the same medal. There is also a term for it: compare and contrast essay outline.

When writing such an essay, remember to:

  • Pick a topic you are interested in (the reader will always notice your disinterest).
  • Provide good arguments (be concrete).
  • Research as much as possible (surprise your reader with new facts).

When working on your argument, collect valuable sources such as scientific magazines, academic journals, documentaries, newspapers, etc.

Argumentative Essay Outline


Firstly, I would love to say thank you for staying with me for that long. Secondly, let's sum everything up. What have we learned (hopefully) from this piece:

  1. what a paper outline is;
  2. we learned how to compile one;
  3. we now know how to distinguish various types of outlines;
  4. you have received outline samples for your future works.

“Learn all you can learn. Never stop learning”.
- Gza

You don't need it, but I have decided to include this video developed by the writing center of North Carolina University, where you can get slightly more information on the same topic and enrich your knowledge.

4 Steps for Writing an Essay Outline

If you want to know how to write an essay outline, follow the four steps below:

  1. Determine the aim of your essay outline:

Consider the thesis statement. It might still need the proper wording, but you will have a rough idea of what point you plan to make and defend in the paper. Having clear aims means you can work through all of the notes you made when brainstorming and craft your outline so that your essay mentions all of the key points that support your objective.

  1. Get rid of the fluff:

When brainstorming, you'll likely have covered all possible avenues and have lots of ideas and information.

Now that you're writing your outline, you must pick apart your notes and choose the most important points to support your thesis statement.

You should consider how the point proves your argument for all pieces of information. Use it if it's easy to link with a thoughtful and clear response.

  1. Choose the main point of each paragraph:

From your chosen points, decide on what will form the body of your essay and look at how well they link and flow with one another. Also, note statistics, anecdotes, and facts supporting each point. These will be part of the essay outline.

  1. Write an essay outline using a template:

When you've decided on your key points for writing, you're ready to write an outline. You should look for a structure to follow for the type of essay you're writing. This will mean you have an organized, straightforward framework to work with and flesh out during your first draft. Different essays require different outlines. For example, expository essays have an additional outline template for APA papers.

Expository Essay Outline Example

You should use more than just a basic essay outline when writing an expository essay. There is a specific college essay outline format to follow. With an expository essay, you're investing in a topic, evaluating evidence, and presenting the idea wholly to your readers. Here is an example of an expository essay outline to help you write yours:

Topic: why the length of the academic year should be reduced

Expository Essay Outline

Shortening the academic year would improve the quality of life for teachers, parents, and students while districts reap the benefits of lower costs and higher scores.

Literary analysis essay outline

A literary analysis essay carefully examines an academic work such as a novel, poem, and short story. It explores the literature text, interprets the meaning, and why authors make confident choices.

This essay does not only summarize/review the book or poem's plot. Instead, it's a form of argumentative essay that contains the analysis of the whole literary work.

Before you create a literary analysis essay outline, ensure you've carefully studied the literature to draw out your thesis statement before you start writing the outline.

As other academic essay outlines, literary analysis essay follows the standard structure. They include:

  • The introduction - telling the readers the essay's focus to make the reader interested
  • The body paragraphs - To build the argument of the thesis
  • Conclusion - Stating the major point you will mention in the essay

MLA Outline Example

Here is an example outline for an essay when writing an MLA paper:


Introductory sentence: Stonehenge is steeped in ancient history.

Link sentence for thesis: SH is among England's oldest structures at thirteen feet in height.

II – Thesis

Paper description – this essay describes the purpose behind Stonehenge and details its construction.

First claim/argument – Stonehenge was constructed in 3001 BC.

Second claim/argument – Stonehenge is a place of religious worship.

Third claim/argument – similar structures exist throughout Europe.

III – Body 1st paragraph:

Ref: studies suggest Stonehenge's circulation ditch was created in 3000 BC or thereabouts.

Claim/explanation – Pagans came together as the stone age ended and began the construction's first part.

Linking sentence: This brings up beliefs at the time.

IV – Body 2nd Paragraph

Ref: Towards the end of Tudor times, people believed ancient Britons would place stones for religious reasons.

Claim/explanation – from the second millennium AD to now, Paganism is a common explanation for the construction of Stonehenge.

Linking sentence: More evidence about the structure.

V – Body 3rd Paragraph

Ref: Stones similar to Stonehenge began emerging circa 1100BC.

Claim/explanation – people believe migrants built the structure.

VI – Conclusion

Summary – great interest in ancient stones with assumptions and scientific evidence.

Concluding stateNo is no clear explanation of how the structure was exists built.

VII – References

Source 1

Source 2

Source 3

APA Outline Example

If you are writing an APA essay, here is an APA outline template to follow.

APA Title Page

Title: Cell phone use and its dangers





Introductory sentence – Of all the positives they bring, cell phones substantially negatively impact our lives.

Linking sentence: mobile technology use is out of control.


Description: This paper describes the adverse effect and dangers of cell phone use on humans and how they can be socially depriving and life-threatening.

1st Point: high cell phone use has negative consequences for health.

2nd Point: human interaction suffers from high cell phone use.

3rd Point: using a phone to text when driving has worse consequences than driving under alcohol.

Body 1st paragraph: Cell phones and associated health risks.

Ref/evidence – cell phones use radiofrequency, which, if high enough, has a thermal effect and raises body temperature. [source 1]

Claim/explanation – The phone's radiation is carcinogenic over the long term, but the long-term effects are unknown due to the newness of the technology.

Linking sentence: social effects aside, driving when using a cell phone brings more significant risks.

Body 2nd paragraph – human interaction is being destroyed by cell phones.

Ref/Evidence – using cell phones in a social situation affects conversation quality. People are less honest and open. [source 2]

Claim/explanation – driving and using a cell phone is worse regarding impact.

Linking sentence: social effects aside, driving when using a cell phone brings about greater risks.

Body 3rd Paragraph – cell phone use behind the wheel.

Ref/Evidence – sending a text message is more dangerous than driving under the influence of alcohol. [source 3]

Claim/explanation – driving and using a cell phone is worse in terms of impact.

Linking sentence: people are addicted to cell phones to such an extent that their health, social life, and driving are at risk.


Summary of paper – thesis restated.

Concluding sentence – continuing to use cell phones excessively is a major threat to humankind.


[Source 1]

[Source 2]

[Source 3]

FAQ About Essay Outlines

Should I use full sentences in my essay outline?

If you are to submit your essay outline, check the essay guidelines to know whether it states you should give a full-sentence outline. If absent, ask your supervisor.

For a personal essay outline, you can choose which one you prefer most.

When do I need an essay outline?

Sometimes, your supervisor may ask you to create an outline before you start writing the essay to understand the structure clearly. Hence it would help if you had an outline of this situation.

However, even if you don't have to submit the outline, writing an essay outline gives you an idea of what to write about and helps to organize your thoughts.

Do I have to stick to my essay outline as I write?

Please follow your outline as you proceed with the essay. However, if your idea changes with points to improve your writing, you can depart from the structure.

But if you are submitting the outline, you need to effect the change on the outline before submission.

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