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4 Essay Outline Templates That Will Simplify Your Writing Process


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Have you ever put together a piece of furniture (or maybe stood by and watched someone else do it)? The task was made a lot easier thanks to the instructions that came in the box. The piece of furniture didn't exactly build itself just because it came with instructions, but without these instructions the task would be nearly impossible to complete.

You can think of an outline for your essay kind of like a set of instructions. Although you still have to put in quite a bit of effort while you're building/writing it, the instructions will help guide you through the entire process so that you don't have to go in there completely blind.

An essay outline is especially helpful for those who are novice writers, but even the old pros use outlines. The prolific William Faulkner was known to use an outline, and he wrote a timeline out for his novel A Fable on his office walls, which can be still seen on display at his home Rowan Oak in Oxford, Mississippi. Now we're not advocating for anyone to write on their walls (sorry to all the moms out there!), but his method was effective because he was able to visualize his timeline and organize his writing around it.

When you are assigned an essay, you might be tempted to wait until the last minute and just write something out really quickly. But without a concrete plan or knowing what it is that you're going to say, you might find yourself hovering over a computer with a blank page and a blinking cursor in the middle of the night. Nobody wants to be in that position, so let's aim to plan ahead, shall we?

Why you should use an outline for everything you write

Have you ever heard the phrase "great ideas take time"? No amazing writer in the history of the universe just started typing one day and then had his or her writing magically turned into a book. Great writing requires great planning. Even if a writer didn't physically write down her timeline, she had a general idea of what she was going to write about before she started typing. Of course, there is such a thing as being inspired and acting on that inspiration (but let's be honest, your history essay isn't probably going to spark that kind of creativity in you).

So, because we are writing a very structured piece with a somewhat predictable layout, it's always best to use an outline. After you do your required research for your topic, an outline will help you to keep all of the points you want to make organized so that you don't skip any important pieces of information and so you can stay on track.

How do you write an outline?

The beauty of an outline is that no one will be seeing your outline — unless, of course, your teacher is making you turn it in beforehand so that he or she can review it before you turn in your paper. However, even if your teacher is reviewing the outline before you turn in your essay, it's doubtful that he or she will grade too harshly on how you organize your thoughts. The main idea is that your teacher wants to see that you're putting in some thought before you write the essay.

Because there's not as much pressure to make an outline sound "nice" and be grammatically correct, you can get out your thoughts quicker and easier. You can use a piece of scratch paper for an outline and just jot down a few points or you can get really intricate by creating a writing outline on the computer. Whatever way you want to write your outline is fine — just make sure you're doing it. Generally, in an outline you will need to have an idea of what your thesis statement will be, how your body paragraphs will support your thesis statement, and how you are going to wrap everything up in a conclusion at the end.

Perfecting Your Thesis Statement
How To Write a Concluding Paragraph

Still a little unsure of how to start? We've provided some examples below of what an outline will look like for a few different types of essays. Remember that these outlines are just samples. They aren't necessarily something set in stone that you can't adapt for your particular assignment or idea.

The argumentative essay

The argumentative essay is as old as writing is. The idea of an argumentative is — you guessed it — to establish an argument and provide evidence of why your claim is correct. You will collect evidence in defense of your argument and evaluate it.

Here is a sample of what an argumentative essay outline might look like:

  1. Introduction
    1. General background information about your topic
    2. Thesis statement
  2. Body paragraphs
    1. Argument 1 in support of your thesis
      1. Supporting fact
      2. Supporting fact
      3. Supporting fact
    2. Argument 2 in support of your thesis
      1. Supporting fact
      2. Supporting fact
      3. Supporting fact
    3. Argument 3 in support of your thesis
      1. Supporting fact
      2. Supporting fact
      3. Supporting fact
  3. Opposing arguments and your response to these claims
    1. Opposing argument 1 to your thesis
      1. Your response to this claim
    2. Opposing argument 2 to your thesis
      1. Your response to this claim
  4. Conclusion
    1. Reiterate arguments made in thesis statement
    2. Why this essay matters (ideas for future research, why it's especially relevant now, possible applications, etc.)

Expository essay outline

Expository essays often get confused with argumentative essays, but the main difference is that the writer's opinions and emotions are completely left out of an expository essay. The objective of an expository essay is to investigate a topic and present an argument in an unbiased way, but to still arrive at a conclusion. Because of this subtle difference, it's important to have a solid outline to get you started on your writing.

  1. Introduction
    1. The presentation of the topic
    2. Your thesis statement
  2. Body paragraphs
    1. Topic sentence 1
      1. Supporting evidence
      2. Analysis
      3. Transition sentence
    2. Topic sentence 2
      1. Supporting evidence
      2. Analysis
      3. Transition sentence
    3. Topic sentence 3
      1. Supporting evidence
      2. Analysis
      3. Transition sentence
  3. Conclusion
    1. Reiterate the points with an overview of the main points you discussed throughout the paper.
    2. Offer solutions, insight into why this topic matters, and what future topics could be expanded upon in a future paper.

Reflective essay outline

Reflective papers are a fun exercise where you get to write about a particular experience in your life and to discuss what lessons you learned from it. First-person essays are a really popular genre right now and are designed to make people from all different backgrounds reflect on a common human experience like receiving your first kiss, failing at something, or triumphing over obstacles. Because reflective essays are a little bit less rigid writing than a traditional classroom essay, the structure is definitely not set in stone. Feel free to play around with what makes sense for your particular story and experience.

  1. Introduction
    1. A really great hook that will have the audience want to keep reading on (an example from the great writer David Sedaris, I always told myself that when I hit fifty I was going to discover opera, not just casually but full force: studying the composers, learning Italian, maybe even buying a cape.
    2. A brief little tease of what the story is going to be about. You'll probably need one to two sentences tops.
  2. Body paragraphs
    1. Act I of your story
      1. What happened initially?
      2. Who were the key players?
      3. What obstacle did you have to overcome?
    2. Act II of your story
      1. Describe the obstacle/problem in more detail
      2. What role did the key players have?
    3. Act III of your story
      1. What happened at the end?
      2. Was everything tied up neatly or not?
  3. Conclusion
    1. Summary of the events
    2. What lesson did you learn? Or, maybe, what was the lesson you learned much later on in life?

Compare and contrast essay outline

We compare and contrast things all the time in "real" life. We analyze what kind of healthcare plan we want, what major to pick, what phone we want, what career we want to pursue, etc. Having the skills to analyze two (or more) items and discovering what the facts are about them so that you can make an educated decision on which to pick are pretty crucial.

A compare and contrast essay gives us the building blocks to understand how to make these decisions with real-life applications — and they can be pretty fun too. Although these compare and contrast essays don't have as complicated of a structure as an expository or an argumentative essay, it's still important to plan out how you're going to tackle this type of essay. Here's an idea of what a compare and contrast outline might look like:

  1. Introduction
    1. A brief introduction to the topic and what Point A and Point B are
    2. Your thesis statement (which will contain some sort of equivalence or dissonance between Point A and Point B)
  2. Body paragraphs
    1. Topic sentence 1 about Point A
      1. Claim 1 about Point A
      2. Claim 2 about Point A
      3. Claim 3 about Point A
    2. Topic sentence 2 about Point B
      1. Claim 1 about Point B
      2. Claim 2 about Point B
      3. Claim 3 about Point B
    3. Topic sentence 3 that connects Point A and Point B
      1. What is similar between these two points?
      2. What is dissimilar?
      3. What comparisons can be made?
  3. Conclusion
    1. What conclusions can we draw about comparing these two points?
    2. Any further research required or suggested for the future?
    3. Is there a third thing that we should be comparing these two points to?

Need help with your outline?

If after reviewing these guidelines or examining these sample outlines you're still a little bit unsure about how to incorporate an outline into your particular essay, be sure to ask your instructor for more guidance.

And, if you need another pair of eyes to look over your paper after it's been written, be sure to check out the services of our professional editors. Our expert editors can help you to polish up your paper, ensure that all of your citations have been made according to the style guide, and give you direction if the essay needs to be revised or rearranged in any way.

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