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Essay Outline: An Ultimate Guide

If 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 a essay for me by professional writers from different academic areas.

What is an outline?

An outline is an organizational tool used by authors 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, for those who are willing to stand out, it is a must. Professors and readers will appreciate a well-detailed structure of contents and it would be easier for an author to work on the piece.

By the end of this article you will:

  • understand what a paper outline is;
  • learn how to prepare an outline;
  • differentiate types of outlines;
  • get outline samples for your future works.

Let’s get educated!

Outline is...

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

As I have already mentioned before, you can produce a piece without any maps or blueprints, however, it will make your life a lot harder. All of our authors work with outlines because it does help produce a better piece.

Here is how an outline can be helpful:

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

Now, when you know how important an outline is I will tell you how to make one. There are two options: first is to ask PapersOwl for help. The second one and my personal favorite is to learn it yourself.

It won't ever harm you, doesn’t it?

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


It should not be way too long. Usually, 3-4 sentences where you describe your topic (spice it up with a hook), intentions to writing this particular piece, and main foundation block of any essay or research paper - thesis statement. Mention the topic and thesis in your outline.

  • The first sentence should introduce a topic and grab readers' attention. Tell an anecdote or a shocking fact relative to the main idea of writing.
  • The second subpoint sentence should all be about the topic, its history. Keep it short but let the reader know everything he has to know.
  • The final subpoint goes for your thesis statement. Announce your argument which will sound in your readers' head all along with your writing.


This 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.

  • Each paragraph has to have a topic or idea which somehow supports your thesis.
  • Your argument should be reinforced by credible opinion, other research, fact, data, etc.
  • Remember to include a transition sentence that will smoothly bring the reader to the next point.


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 concluding statement. Usually, it tells a reader how the thesis might be implemented, the importance of solutions described in the essay, or bring other aspects which may be influenced by the idea in the thesis statement.

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Here is a template for a basic essay outline:

Basic Essay Outline

NOTE: The more parts you add to each of the sections the more adequate information piece you will receive in the end.

Outline structure types

While it is all up to you to decide how to organize an outline, there are some which are widely accepted. What are those types?

Let's find out!

Alphanumeric structure style

The alphanumeric outline structure is the most frequent one. It is easy to find one. Every subdivision is described as roman numbers, then you go with capital letters, Arab numbers, and lowercase letters, accordingly.

  • Roman numerals (I, II, III, etc.) are used 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.) are used to show substantial points in the sections.
  • Arabic numbers (1,2,3, etc.) are used for further important details.
  • Lowercase letters (a,b,c, etc.) are used if even more details needed.

Alphanumeric Structure Style

Decimal structure style

The decimal structure is similar to the alphanumeric structure but it has one difference. Here we use only numerals. Some people prefer this structure type because it might be easier to display the connection between each of the elements.

  • 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 number 3.0, we name a new piece of information 3.1, 3.2, and so on.
  • In case if further details are needed we simply add more decimals. In our case, it will look like 3.1.1, 3.2.1, etc.

Decimal Structure Style

NOTE: Decide on the length of sentences in your outline. Full sentences will be useful if you want to provide more thorough information while brief ones will help you keep your outline short and concise.

Outline Samples

As promised, here you can find instances of outlines for different essay types.

First of all, we need to determine what essay type we are going to write. To do that we need to identify what it is we are trying to achieve with our writing. Are we try to persuade our audience, enlighten, entertain, are we willing to provide research, a review or else?

Let’s go through some of these.

Narrative essay

A narrative essay is a type of an assignment one usually has to perform while in school. It is the least complicated kind of writing because you don't have to perform any sort of research. The most common topic for such an essay would “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.
  • make bright characters.
  • exaggerate, but do not lie.

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

Here is how the outline should look like:

Narrative Essay Outline Samples

NOTE: Coordinate information in your outline accordingly. Each section title has to have equally important information to the information that is contained in other titles.

Comparative essay

Probably one of the most common assignments a student has to perform. This is writing where you should highlight in which ways certain things are similar to and different from one another. This is an extremely important task to perform because it stimulates your critical thinking and forces you to conduct a compelling analysis.

I am not going to describe the whole process of writing a comparison essay in this article, however, I will provide you with certain tips:

  • Use cue words (also, like, similar to, unlike, compared to, nevertheless, etc.)
  • Include only valuable point (what’s informative, relevant, interesting, etc.)
  • Be more specific in your thesis.

By the last point, I mean that you should 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

This one is very similar to a comparative essay in terms of bringing arguments to support your opinion, however, in this case, you should provide arguments on both sides of the same medal. 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 as scientific magazines, academic journals, documentaries, newspapers, and so on.

Argumentative Essay Outline

NOTE: If one of the major sections of your outline starts with a verb in one sense, the rest of your sections should start with a verb in the same tense. It is called a parallel structure.


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

I bet 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 are wanting to know how to write an essay outline, follow the four steps below:

  • Determine the aim of your essay outline

Consider the thesis statement. It might not have the right wording yet, but you will have a rough idea of what point you’re planning on making and defending 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.

  • 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 need to pick apart your notes and choose the points that are the most important in supporting your thesis statement.

For all pieces of information, you should consider how the point proves your argument. If it’s easy to link it with a thoughtful and clear response, you should use it.

  • 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 down statistics, anecdotes, and facts that support each point. These will be part of the essay outline.

  • 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 that you’re writing. This will mean you have an organized, clear frame to work with and flesh out during your first draft. Different essays require different outlines. Expository essays, for example, have a different essay outline template for APA papers.

Expository Essay Outline Example

When writing an expository essay, you shouldn't just use a basic essay outline. There is a specific college essay outline format to follow. With an expository essay, you’re investing a topic, evaluating evidence, and presenting the idea wholly to your reader. 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

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: At thirteen feet in height, SH is among the oldest structures in England.

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 was ending and began the first part of the construction.

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 statement: There is no clear explanation on how the structure was 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 have a huge, negative impact on our lives.

Linking sentence: mobile technology use is out of control


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

1st Point: there are negative consequences to health with high cell phone use

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 the influence of 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: this brings us to how human interaction is being destroyed by cell phone use.

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 – people interact with each other less when mobile phones are around. Empathy has lowered.

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 to excess is a major threat to humankind.


[Source 1]

[Source 2]

[Source 3]

Good luck writing your outlines, keep learning, and remember that If you are still struggling with an outline or any other essay related task you can always depend on professional writers from PapersOwl.

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